Salena Zito

NEW WATERFORD, Ohio – If Ohio is the nation's political weather vane (and you can make a good case that it is), then a two-election trend toward Democrats may be over.

“The problems for Ohio are all created in Washington,” says Bill Watkins, owner of The Original Mario’s pizza shop on East Main Street here. “Bailouts, stimulus money, cap-and-trade have only hurt our economy, not enhanced it.”

Earlier this month, President Obama and his policies took a hit in the Buckeye State. A Quinnipiac University poll showed the president’s job-approval rating dropped from 62 percent to 49 percent, and Ohio's unemployment rate hit 11.1 percent, higher than the national average of 9.5 percent.

A couple of years ago, Ohio unquestionably was trending Democrat, according to Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. That was apparent, he said, in the composition of the 2008 electorate and in polling completed even early this year.

Things have changed. Ohio's recession now seems to be owned by Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, whose handling of the state’s budget did little to instill confidence in voters that he has a plan to get the state back on track.

“Incumbents rarely get more popular when conditions worsen, whatever their party,” says political scientist Bert Rockman.

If the slide continues over the next two to three public-opinion surveys, then Democrats and the Obama administration have lots of reason to worry.

Sometimes a cross-sectional survey produces smoke without fire, merely reflecting some momentary condition or opposition rhetoric, cautions Rockman.

From the early 1990s to 2006, Ohio trended Republican; the GOP controlled the state’s legislative, executive and judicial branches, as well as both U.S. Senate seats and a majority Ohio’s congressional delegation.

That all began to change after the 2002 election, said University of Miami (Ohio) political science professor Christopher Kelly: “In 2006, the Democrats struck back, winning the governor’s seat and one house of the legislature, as well as a (U.S.) Senate seat.” They further solidified control in 2008, with more House gains.

Things have looked great for Democrats until recently, said Kelly. “Gov. Strickland, who had been popular, has seen his poll numbers fall as he has failed to get a budget that addresses the deficit that Ohio currently carries.”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.