Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- President Obama returned to Ohio this week, preaching his familiar message to this beleaguered state's doubting voters that the economy was "moving in the right direction."

With the Buckeye State's jobless rate stuck at 10.5 percent, one of the highest in the country, Obama's dubious assertion doesn't appear to be selling. Ohio has lost more than 130,000 jobs since he signed his $800-billion spending stimulus into law.

And that's not the only presidential message falling flat in the state. Obama and his party are hoping to convince enough Ohioans that if they vote Republican in November, it will only bring back the George W. Bush-era policies that he claims led to the 2008 recession.

But a new Rasmussen poll shows that former Bush administration official Rob Portman is maintaining his strong lead over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the state's failed Democratic jobs czar, among likely voters in the open U.S. Senate race. Portman draws 45 percent support compared to Fisher's pathetic 37 percent in this pivotal Democrat-leaning Midwestern state that will be a strategic battleground in the 2012 presidential election. Thirteen percent remain undecided and 5 percent prefer someone else.

Portman, a former congressman who was director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget and before that Bush's U.S. Trade Representative, has maintained his support throughout the year, comfortably staying in the mid-40s range. But Fisher's latest numbers represent "his lowest level of support since regular tracking of the race began in February," according to Rasmussen Reports.

"When leaners are included in the totals, Portman's lead grows from eight points to nine. With the leaners, 48 percent will vote for Portman and 39 percent for Fisher," Rasmussen says.

If Democrats were looking for convincing evidence that playing the blame Bush game isn't selling among voters, Ohio is Exhibit A.

Perhaps no other Republican Senate candidate is tied more to two hot button issues under the Bush administration than Portman: the escalating budget and trade.

Democrats blame Bush for having the worst record on both issues, when in fact the deficit was virtually cut in half by 2007 and formed just a small fraction of Obama's giant $1.5 trillion deficits last year, this year and next year.

Fisher has been bashing Bush/Portman trade policies, saying that they led to huge job losses and undermined the nation's economy. In fact, American exports grew to $1.6 trillion a year under Bush and unemployment was a low 4.6 percent the year before the 2008 presidential election.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.