CLEVELAND -— Ohio's lieutenant governor enters the 2018 race for the state's top job on Friday with the promised backing of Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Whether the endorsement of a leading detractor of President Donald Trump helps or hurts Republican Mary Taylor in her bid to lead the battleground state is unclear.
Taylor embraced Kasich administration accomplishments including righting the economy, reducing regulations and cutting taxes during Friday's announcement at the City Club of Cleveland — but without ever mentioning Kasich by name.
"Our progress is real, but we are not satisfied. We are scaling the mountain, but we are not yet at the summit. Now is not the time to rest and to wait," she said. "Our state can be even greater. There are magnificent things we can do, stubborn problems we can solve, and individual lives we can help repair."
Taylor, 51, of Green, is the final high-profile Republican expected to join the race to succeed
Kasich, who can't run again due to term limits. She faces Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth, in a primary race that promises to divide the loyalties of Ohio's GOP base.
Kasich's backing could prove beneficial to Taylor amid the crowded field. He won Ohio's Republican presidential primary last year with more than 930,000 votes — more than Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and nearly as many as Trump and Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined.
Yet more recent polling has found that Trump's favorability slightly exceeds Kasich's among Ohio voters.
Some voters, like 68-year-old Jack Boyle, were put off when the Republican governor clashed with Trump last year, refusing to endorse him, appear with him or attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he secured the nomination.
"I'm disappointed," the retired financial adviser said Friday in Cleveland. "Kasich could have been a better sport about the whole thing. His behavior at the convention was an embarrassment, and once Trump became president, Kasich's a regular on CNN panels, calling Trump crazy."
Kasich also has bucked his party in defending the Medicaid expansion made available under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. He has forged alliances nationally in an effort to preserve the program and craft revisions to the law that leaders of his party, including Trump, have vowed to repeal and replace.
Fellow Republicans in the Ohio House stopped short Thursday of overriding a Kasich veto aimed at protecting Medicaid expansion from an enrollment freeze beginning next year, but they successfully overrode 11 other of his line-item budget vetoes. If the Senate also does so, those would be the first budget veto overrides of a same-party governor in 40 years.
Taylor, a former state insurance director, auditor and state representative, opposes Medicaid expansion on the grounds that it's not sustainable. It's a big policy difference with the governor who's said he'll endorse her and who she's served beside since 2011.
She reminded listeners Friday that she also led the state's fight against the federal health care law and called herself a conservative reformer and "modernizer."
Her opposition comes even amid Taylor's recent public revelation that her two sons have struggled with opioid addiction, a national scourge that Kasich argues gets double the money through the expansion than it does through the state general fund.
Taylor pledged Friday to confront the epidemic, noting: "For me, this is personal. I have known the sorrow that drug addiction causes."
Ohio Democrats seized on the fight to play up an issue that's dividing Republicans in Ohio and nationally. Democrats' candidates all support the expansion.
Democratic Chairman David Pepper accused Taylor, Husted and DeWine of being "missing in action" when it came to whether they supported Kasich's veto of the Medicaid expansion enrollment freeze. Kasich's administration estimated 500,000 low-income Ohioans would lose coverage under the change within the first 18 months. Renacci was the only GOP candidate who publicly supported the freeze and opposed the veto.
He has sought to lump together Taylor, Husted and DeWine in voters' minds as he faces three high-profile sitting statewide officeholders next year. Husted and DeWine each have extensive political networks and more than $2.5 million in the bank.