Why the Ohio Governor's Race Is Critical for Obama

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"I don't think you win elections by running away from your friends," declared Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in a display of support for the embattled president. In the Ohio gubernatorial race, the incumbent isn't choosing to distance himself from President Obama, but is instead embracing him. It's a risky strategy, and one that his Republican opponent, John Kasich, has welcomed. On Fox News with Hannity last week Kasich noted that Obama had visited his "twin" Strickland in Ohio eleven times in order to derail his campaign. The reason for so many visits? "He knows if he loses Ohio he's in trouble," stated the Republican at the time.

Ohio's electoral importance as a swing-state is constantly emphasized by operatives on both sides of the aisle. And the resources poured into the state's governor's race have transformed it into a de facto proxy for Obama's 2012 relection bid. As of now, the effort that national and state-level Democrats have poured into the race doesn't appear to have put Strickland over the top. Kasich maintains a slim 6 point lead going into the home stretch.

  • What a Strickland Victory Means For 2010: Proves That 'Embracing' the President Can Work   Jeff Zeleny at The New York Times outlines the potential gains if the governor can out a victory against his opponent. "The White House has tried to play a more significant role in races for governor in other battleground states, particularly Florida, but few Democrats have welcomed Mr. Obama as warmly as Mr. Strickland has," writes Zeleny. "Ohio began the year as a land of opportunity for Democrats to hold their majority in the House, Senate and in key governorships. It has become a field of uphill battles for candidates, embodying the challenges facing the party across the country."
  • What He Has Going For Him: 'The Best-Organized State Party in the Nation'  "While Strickland trails Republican John Kasich in public polls, he narrowly leads in his own surveys and hopes to overcome the enthusiasm gap with organizational energy," observes The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne. "President Obama sees Ohio as a firewall in his 2012 reelection effort, and having a friendly governor would be a major asset."
  • What Will Hurt: a 'Huge' Gender Gap  The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore reports that Democrats are flooding the airwaves with campaign commercials, but Strickland is still trailing badly in a few key areas. "The race may be harder to read than the polls suggest. For one thing, surveys indicate a huge gender gap, with Mr. Kasich up 20 points among men and down 10 points among women," he reports. "At the same time, a big problem for the incumbent Mr. Strickland is that only 43% of voters say they have a positive opinion of him." The Journal reporter also notes that Kasich disputes the notion that the governor has a superior organization: "We've got the most advanced ground troops and internet savvy operation in the history of Ohio."
  • A Potential Difference-Maker: The 'Foreign Money' Charge Works in Ohio  It's a "wildcard," admits The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, but if it's played right the charge that "foreign money has financed many of the independent groups" (here's the background) could sway voters toward the Democrat even though the media "ridiculed" the White House for pushing it. "In Ohio, where workers are upset that blue collar jobs have been shipped overseas, where economic nationalism matters, such a charge may have an impact. It could turn just enough Republicans away from Kasich, and this could make all the difference for Strickland."
  • Why It Matters For 2012: A 'Firewall' for Democrats Would Set the Stage for Obama's Reelection   Keep in mind E.J. Dionne's "firewall" descriptor as The Plain Dealer's Stephen Koff emphasizes the importance of Ohio establishing the electoral "playing field" for 2012. "Any time the governor and the president are of the same political party, 'it probably means that they have a good ground organization that they can work with' in the next presidential election, said Joan McLean, professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University." Thus, Obama's recent push to give a "big, high-visibility pep rally" mere days before the election. "Clearly the Democrats think there is something magical [in these rallies] that motivates voters."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.