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Republican testifies Kasich campaign helped, but didn't order Libertarian petition challenge

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Republican who spearheaded a challenge that bumped a Libertarian gubernatorial candidate off Ohio's November ballot testified Monday to extensive communications with Gov. John Kasich's re-election campaign ahead of the protest, but he rejected suggestions Kasich's campaign orchestrated the effort.

Terry Casey, a former elections official turned GOP consultant, testified in federal court that he discussed his petition challenge against Libertarian Charlie Earl with top Kasich campaign advisers and exchanged many emails and calls with them seeking assistance with research, paperwork and what he called "mechanics."

Casey said he acted by himself to mount the challenge to Earl's petitions, however — driven by evidence he uncovered that a lawyer and consultant connected to Democrats had helped Earl onto the ballot.

"It just stuck in my mind as a little un-American," he testified before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson. "I mean, Democrats being for Democrats, Republicans being for Republicans, is normal. But one party having two candidates on the ballot didn't seem to be right."

The Libertarian Party of Ohio is suing to have Earl and Libertarian attorney general candidate Steven Linnabary restored to the Nov. 4 ballot. On Monday, Watson gave each side a day and a half to present its case.

Libertarians allege Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted's decision to disqualify Earl and Linnabary is unconstitutional because it was based on partisan reasons. Husted has said politics did not play a role in his decision.

Court filings in the case show Casey was in frequent communication with Matt Damschroder, Husted's director of elections, around the time of Earl's disqualification.

Mark Kafantaris, an attorney for the Libertarians, noted that Casey occasionally was blind carbon-copying Damschroder on emails addressed to Kasich campaign operatives about the Earl challenge, and the two exchanged 20 text messages during Earl's disqualification hearing. The attorney said that on a couple of occasions, Damschroder visited Casey's home.

Casey said that he and Damschroder have been friends for 15 years and that he was asking for public information, such as the date a hearing had been scheduled.

Kafantaris noted that Kasich campaign staffer Dave Luketic addressed on email to "the team" and included Casey in the group, and in another email Casey described his research on Earl's petitions as "a high-priority project for the governor's folks." Casey said it was an overstatement.

With the estimated legal bill for the Earl challenge exceeding $250,000 so far, Kafantaris questioned whether Casey's interest in the case was on par with that of a single individual — or whether the donors he plans to seek to help pay the legal bills might have an interest in getting Earl off the ballot.

Casey reiterated the challenge was his idea alone: "I'm kind of a self-starter," he said. He said his primary purpose in mounting the challenge to Earl was to embarrass the Democrats who helped get him on the ballot.

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