Ohio Gov. John Kasich's lead over his Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, has been cut in half over the past 5 months, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. But the first-term Republican's 2014 reelection campaign remains on fairly firm terrain, even if the poll raises doubts about whether his stewardship in Ohio can appeal to voters in the race for the GOP presidential nomination two years later.
Kasich leads FitzGerald, the new poll shows, 44 percent to 37 percent. That is down from a 14-point lead in June, though Kasich enjoyed leads of roughly 10 points in two earlier polls this year.
The June Quinnipiac poll had been the most recent live-caller survey in the race until Tuesday. Two automated surveys from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, one in August conducted on their own and another earlier this month commissioned by the Ohio Democratic Party, had showed FitzGerald running neck-and-neck with Kasich.
The week after the June survey was released, Kasich signed a budget that included new restrictions on abortion. And last month, Kasich pushed through Medicaid expansion to provide low-income Ohioans with medical coverage. The Quinnipiac poll found that Medicaid expansion is relatively popular, with 51 percent saying it is a good idea. Tuesday's release didn't include questions about the abortion restrictions, though data on Ohio voters' opinions on other issues are forthcoming in a future release.
Despite the narrowing race, there are some signs Kasich remains the favorite for reelection. A majority, 52 percent, approve of the way he is handling his job as governor, while 33 percent disapprove. More voters, 48 percent, think he deserves reelection than the percentage of voters who don't think so, 39 percent.
Kasich nears the end of 2013 more popular than he began it, even if the ballot test is tighter since the previous poll. In early December of 2012, though his approval rating was net-positive, it was only at 42 percent. And his reelect was upside-down: Only 36 percent thought he deserved reelection, compared to 43 percent who didn't.
FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, remains unknown to most voters: 71 percent say they haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion. He's picked up only 13 points in name-ID since last December, equally positive and negative.
If Kasich wins reelection, his name will likely enter the discussion over the GOP presidential nomination in 2016; Kasich briefly ran for president in 1999 before dropping out of the race. But, at least in Ohio, the Quinnipiac poll points to some pitfalls. Even though the majority of voters think Medicaid expansion is a good idea, just 28 percent of Republicans agree. And just 14 percent say Kasich's decision to expand Medicaid makes them more likely to vote for him in the gubernatorial election, while 24 percent say it makes them less likely to vote for him.
The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted Nov. 19-24, surveying 1,361 registered voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 2.7 percentage points.