CINCINNATI - A southwest Ohio tea party leader appears ready to announce a Republican primary challenge to Gov. John Kasich.
Tea party activists say Ted Stevenot has scheduled a news conference Tuesday in Columbus. They say in a statement that Stevenot will introduce Brenda Mack of Canfield as his running mate. She is former president of the Ohio Black Republicans Association.
Stevenot is among Ohio conservatives who think Kasich has been moving away from the right. They have been particularly critical of his push to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, a move that drew Obama's public praise. Some of them suggest that Kasich, a former congressman and Fox News commentator, is trying to position himself as a national candidate.
Stevenot is past president of the statewide Ohio Liberty Coalition, a Clermont County tea party leader and co-founder of a suburban Cincinnati insurance company. He and Mack have been talking in recent weeks with other tea party activists about running. He didn't immediately return a telephone call Thursday.
Leaders of the two major parties usually try to avoid primary contests because they can be divisive and sap funds that could be saved for the general election campaign.
Tom Zawistowski, tea party leader in Portage County, said that while Stevenot and Mack will face an uphill fight against Kasich and the GOP hierarchy, particularly in fundraising and campaign staffing, he thinks conservatives - not just tea party activists - will rally behind them.
"I think there's a lot of opportunity for someone who is a true conservative," Zawistowski said. He said Stevenot is knowledgable on the issues, comes from a region with a very active tea party movement and will prove likable to voters.
Kasich said recently that he's too busy leading Ohio to worry about possible GOP challengers. A state party spokesman said Thursday the governor will have its full support.
"His continued leadership will keep Ohio going in the right direction," spokesman Chris Schrimpf said in a statement. "Governor Kasich has and will continue to have the strong backing of the Ohio Republican Party."
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Monday announced plans to seek the Democratic nomination, challenging Ed FitzGerald. FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, has been running for months and has the backing of state party leaders. However, Portune said he has a better record to run on and can win important votes in southern Ohio.
Candidates face a Feb. 5 filing deadline for the May 6 primaries.