Just two years after Ohio voters helped elect President Barack Obama, the historically red state went back to its roots.
Ohioans took their disappointment with government spending, high unemployment and Democratic incumbents’ policies to the voting booths and decided it was time for change.
That change includes governor-elect John Kasich, along with Republicans regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives, winning seats in the Senate and the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
“We took a step forward, to shrinking government and to making it work,” Kasich said. “We took a step to making Ohio a better place to live and work.”
The mood at each party’s election gathering reflected the evening’s results. With blue light projected on the ceiling of the Renaissance Hotel and “Taking Back Ohio” lights on the walls, the atmosphere at the Republican party was electric. When “Hang on Sloopy” played, the crowd burst out with chants of “O-H-I-O.” The volume increased when Fox News projected the Republicans would take over the House at about 9:10 p.m.
At the Democratic election party at the Hyatt Regency, however, the atmosphere was subdued. Aside from Strickland’s concession speech, there were few cheers.
“We didn’t have a good night nationally tonight, we know that,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, whose seat was not up for a vote.
Kasich wasn’t the only Republican to have success in gubernatorial races. Twenty-one other states had projected Republican winners by 1:30 a.m. The Democratic Party was projected to narrowly retain control of the U.S. Senate.
Democrats will need to convince moderate voters of their stance on the economy and the deficit before the 2012 election, said Charles Stewart, a visiting scholar at the Ohio State Moritz College of Law and a professor of political science at MIT.
There will “probably not (be) a lot of major legislation over the next two years” because of a split House and Senate, Stewart said.
As of Monday, Strickland and Kasich were tied, according to Quinnipiac polls. But Ohio voters were fueled by the 400,000 jobs lost during Strickland’s two-year tenure as governor.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 10 percent in September, down from 10.1 percent in August, but remained higher than the national average, which stayed at 9.6 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
“I work for you, not Wall Street, not for the wealthy and not for narrow special interests,” Strickland said. “I believe in Ohio. Even though we weren’t successful, I think we fought a pretty good fight.”
Strickland’s main attack was to paint Kasich as anti-education, something he reminded Ohioans of in his concession speech.
“We fought to defend Ohio schools to make sure they were constitutionally funded,” Strickland said as multiple attendees solemnly exited the hotel conference room.
But some students at the Republican election party were optimistic.
“I like Kasich, he seems to represent my ideals and Ohio’s,” said Jibreel Riley, a first-year in public affairs.
Other students simply voted to shake up the system.
“I kind of crossed lines in some categories for some candidates just based on if they’ve been in office or not,” said Kevin Volz, a fourth-year in strategic communications. “I feel like people who have been in office haven’t been doing so great, so maybe we should give some other people a shot.”
Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman worried that Kasich’s election will harm Ohio’s education system because of his state budget policies.
“I am most concerned about the budget cuts that Kasich has proposed,” Coleman said. “He is going to eliminate the state income tax and that is going to affect education. Fewer students are going to be able to go to college.”
Coleman said he believed both candidates to be vague, but he was putting support behind the candidate he believed would do the best things for his city.
In his victory speech, Kasich promised that is what he would do.
He said he ran because he “wanted to improve the lives of people in our country. That is what it is all about. It’s not about partisanship,” he said. “You have one moment in time to do great things.
“We are going to raise the bar in Ohio.”
Justin Conley, Jami Jurich, Alex Hampel and Rick Schanz contributed to this story.