Westerville, Ohio (CNN) – Ohio Republican gubernatorial nominee John Kasich kicked off a statewide bus tour with his fellow GOP candidates on Monday by unleashing an angry attack on Democrats who, he charged, have run a campaign based on fear, lies and mudslinging.
“In my entire political life I have never seen the kind of negative, smearing, lying stuff that these Democrats have done and brought on the people of this state,” he told a crowd of Republicans in this Columbus suburb. “Shame on them! Do they have one good positive decent idea in their brain? I don’t think so.”
Kasich, a former Congressman and Lehman Brothers employee, is trying to unseat Gov. Ted Strickland, whose campaign has portrayed Kasich as friend of Wall Street who voted against Second Amendment rights and backed unfair trade deals when he served in the House.
Both campaigns, along with their out-of-state allies, have funded negative television and radio ads. Polls suggest the race is a toss-up as it heads into its final week, a closing stretch that will see Ohio campaign stops from President Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Bill Clinton.
Kasich spent much of the speech criticizing President Obama’s “big government” agenda and said the White House is paying so much attention to Ohio in order to protect Obama’s re-election hopes in 2012.
“Barack Obama comes into this state and all he talks about is, ‘They’re going to take us backwards,’” he said. “Well you know what? Backwards into the 90s is a heck of a lot better than what he’s given us since he’s been president.”
He called Ohio “the eye of the tiger” this election season and claimed the whole world is watching what happens in the Buckeye State.
“This is our chance in this state, in ground zero, to have our say, to stick up for what we believe in,” he said. “We can be a role model for the rest of this country, and then we move forward to 2012.”
For all his bombast about President Obama, Kasich made no mention of Strickland. He instead issued ominous warnings about how the Democratic Party may try to steal the election next Tuesday.
“They will try to buy this election from top to bottom,” he said. “They are going to use the policies of fear, every left-wing organizer in this country, to come in here and scare our people and try to drag people away from the polls. They don’t want you to vote. They are going to tell a lot of lies.”
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Strickland, accused Kasich of losing his cool.
“With his campaign in freefall, it’s not surprising that Congressman Kasich has resorted to lashing out irrationally at campaign rallies,” Smith said in an email. “Unfortunately for him, the more Ohioans have learned about him – and his support for disastrous policies like outsourcing – the less they like him.”
Kasich’s fiery, finger-jabbing tone was a departure from the quiet speech of GOP Senate nominee Rob Portman just moments before. Portman, a former congressman and budget chief under President George W. Bush, tends to avoid bomb-throwing rhetoric in favor of measured critiques about how Democrats have mismanaged the economy.
“We lost jobs last month, 17,000 jobs last month in Ohio,” Portman said. “Those aren’t statistics, those are families. Those are families that are losing hope, and people that are getting left behind. That’s what this campaign is all about.”