Obituary: Kent B. McGough

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 17

COLUMBUS — Kent B. McGough, a Lima, O., native and former state Republican Party chairman who helped the GOP gain some rare political victories in the wake of Watergate, died of a stroke Wednesday at Riverside Methodist Hospital here. He was 80.

“He was very, very brilliant politically,” said former Gov. James A. Rhodes, who won his third term in 1974, when Mr. McGough was party chairman. “He helped my political career significantly, and he was one of the finest gentlemen I knew.”

Mr. McGough led the state GOP from 1973 to 1977. When his term began, the Republican Party was in a nationwide slump. With President Nixon embroiled in the Watergate scandal, the party’s candidates were reeling.

In the 1974 congressional elections, Democrats gained 49 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and five seats in the Senate.

But under Mr. McGough, Ohio bucked the trend.

Mr. Rhodes defeated incumbent John J. Gilligan in the gubernatorial race, making Ohio the only state that year to defeat a Democratic governor. Ohio’s congressional delegation added a Republican in 1974 elections, making Ohio the only state to do so.

“That’s a tribute to his leadership, when he was faced with incredible unpopularity at the national level,” said Brett Buerck, director of communications for the Ohio Republican Party.

Mr. McGough was born in Harrod, O., and attended Miami University in Oxford, O. He graduated in 1939 with a degree in political science and economics.

He served in the army in Alaska during World War II, then returned to Lima to open an insurance agency with his brother, William.

He became active in local politics, first as a precinct chairman in 1950, then as Allen County party chairman in 1954. He held that post until 1974.

Mr. McGough was elected state party treasurer in 1968 and 1972, then won a battle with Cuyahoga County party chairman Robert Hughes for the state leadership post in 1973. He replaced John Andrews of Toledo. Mr. McGough was the last GOP state chairman from northwest Ohio.

Mr. Buerck credited Mr. Mc Gough with adapting to a political process that, during his time in charge of the party, moved from traditional backroom politics to an emphasis on television and media exposure.

“He had to face the stark reality that fund-raising for that television time would take up a large part of his efforts,” Mr. Buerck said.

Mr. McGough was not pleased with the new politics, however. Upon his resignation, he said he was saddened that, unlike his predecessors, he had to spend half of his time raising money and not enough time building a grassroots organization.

Mr. Buerck said Mr. McGough was a successful organizer, starting campaign schools for prospective candidates and reaching out to groups usually considered Democratic strongholds.

In 1977, Mr. McGough ran for chairman of the national Republican Party and finished third. He was the top moderate vote-getter, losing to a conservative, former Sen. William Brock of Tennessee.

After quitting as state party chairman, Mr. McGough formed a consulting firm, McGough and Associates, and moved to Columbus. He advised the re-election campaigns of Presidents Reagan and Bush, and retired in 1992.

Mr. McGough is survived by his wife, Wilda; son, John; daughters, Sandra M. Shelar, Debra M. Halliday, and Cindy Long, and 11 grandchildren.

Services will be at 3:30 p.m. today in Trinity United Methodist Church, Columbus. Arrangements are by Schoedinger Northwest Chapel, Columbus.

The family requests tributes to any local chapter of the American Red Cross or to Miami University.