Salena Zito

Ohio has a political-identity crisis. Is it a “blue state,” as demonstrated by Democrats’ statewide wins in 2006 and 2008, or a “red state” that is just fed up with the behavior of its former Republican elected officials?

“Well, it's more like an orange state,” said Bert Rockman, a political scientist from Purdue University.

Ohio, Rockman explains, is mostly up for grabs: “Through gerrymandering – and, yes, both parties do it – Republicans had for some time a lock on the state legislature and, therefore, a lock on the state's congressional delegation.”

That's changed some, precipitated by the misfortunes during Republican Gov. Bob Taft’s administration and by the difficult economic climate that Ohio, like other industrial Midwestern states, has suffered.

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Democrats do well in the cities; Republicans do well in small towns and rural parts of the state. The suburbs are up for grabs; they lean more Republican around Cincinnati with more Democratic near Columbus.

Look at Columbus for how the state will go: It is a formerly Republican middle-class city that is now mainly Democratic; its typically well-off suburbs are still mainly Republican but trending lately toward Democrats.

“Generally speaking,” Rockman says, “despite much malarkey about Reagan Democrats, the Democrats have consistently held onto their working-class base” in the state.

This week, a former Republican congressman from Ohio, John Kasich, announced he will take on Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland next year. The ebb-and-flow of that race in many ways will reflect the mood of the country and whether or not the Democrats’ revolution of 2008 has legs.

Strickland’s counterpart in Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell, is a great admirer of Kasich (a Pittsburgh native) and calls him one of his favorite Republicans. Yet he says, predictably, that Strickland deserves to be re-elected.

“Ted has done a fabulous job in Ohio,” Rendell said, explaining that a governor’s role is to create an environment for job development, job growth and job retention – three marks he says Strickland has hit.

Statewide, Strickland is better-known. He comes from southern Ohio and is, as Democrats go, fairly conservative – though undoubtedly less so than Kasich.

Rockman anticipates this will be a real horserace: “A lot may depend upon whether voters think well of the current presidential administration … as well as what they think of Strickland, who still seems to be doing okay.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.