Political Players : Gov. Strickland Grades Obama

The following is an Atlantic interview with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. A key swing state Democrat, Strickland gives the president a "B" on his tenure thus far (or "perhaps an A minus") and says he...
- Remains "hugely concerned" about the Afghan Surge
- Wants the Cornhusker Kickback killed
- Can't name any mistakes the president made
- Is buddies with Rahm (of course!)

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: As we speak, you're beginning a very tough re-election campaign with falling approval ratings, and either tied or trailing John Kasich, your Republican opponent, in the polls.  What do you think has gone wrong for you politically over the last few months?
GOV. STRICKLAND: I wouldn't say it's gone wrong with me politically.  I am dealing with a recession that obviously was not of my own making.  But I am responsible for managing the affairs of Ohio as we move through this recession and get to recovery.  Quite frankly, some of our own internal polls are not as negative as those that have been published.

And so I look forward to a very robust campaign.  I feel positive about my chances for re-election.  And I look forward to engaging John Kasich in a serious discussion of the issues facing Ohio.  

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: January will likely be Ohio's tenth straight month of double-digit unemployment.  Your state's lost 300,000 jobs since you took office.  How do you make the case to voters that this isn't at all the Democratic Party's fault?

GOV. STRICKLAND: Well, the fact is that when Barack Obama was inaugurated less than one year ago, I believe the economy lost over 750,000 jobs in that one month.  I think you can make the reasonable argument that the president and our Democratic members of Congress have worked to stabilize the economy.  The freefall has stopped.  

And now we have the responsibility to rebuild this economy in the wake of the disaster that was caused by greed, and a Wall Street culture, and a lack of reasonable regulations.  So the people of Ohio are fairly politically astute.  They understand, I believe, that I did not cause this recession.  Barack Obama did not cause this recession.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: But President Obama's approval ratings have now dropped to the lowest levels of his tenure--driven largely by a collapse in support among independents, and a majority now opposed to his health care plan.  Do you think he could have handled this any better?

GOV. STRICKLAND: I think the president inherited a very unusual set of circumstances.  We had seen the deficit explode under President Bush.  We had a war that was not paid for.  And so he came into office in the midst of a recession that became the deepest recession in perhaps 70 or more years.

Has he been a perfect president?  Hasn't been a perfect president, but he's been a really good one in the midst of the most challenging circumstances.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: So you think that the challenge politically is voters simply don't understand how big the problems were he inherited.

GOV. STRICKLAND: Well, I'm not at all convinced that the president is in any political difficulty in terms of the politics of it.  I think he still has a fairly high approval rating.  I think people continue to trust him.  And health care is the toughest of all domestic issues to deal with.  

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: Do you feel fully comfortable with the health care plan that was passed by the Senate?

GOV. STRICKLAND: Well, both the House and the Senate plans have strengths and weaknesses.  And I don't think that it's possible for anyone to know for sure what the final healthcare reform bill is going to look like.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: If you were a member of the Senate, would you have supported the Senate plan?

GOV. STRICKLAND: Oh, I absolutely would have. And I believe that when the final bill is signed into law, it's going to be a bill that will be hugely beneficial to our country, and to the people of our country.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: Do you think Senator Nelson's special deal for Nebraska should be removed from the bill?

GOV. STRICKLAND: Absolutely I think it should be removed from the bill. You know, I was in Congress 12 years. I understand that there is a process that occurs as major legislation is being considered, and that there are many things included and excluded from bills as they are initially presented and voted upon that do not remain in the final product.  And I think that's certainly going to be true of the health care bill.

BRIAN GOLDSMITH: Last month, Governor, you told an Ohio newspaper that you deserved a grade of B for your performance in 2009.  

Presented by

Brian Goldsmith is a contributor to TheAtlantic.com. A former political producer for the CBS Evening News, he is now a student at Stanford Law School.

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