Salena Zito

Ohio, Kondik says, “is in an economic rut and Ohioans are looking for some signs that the state is recovering. If things are lousy next year like they were in 2010, the Republicans may do well yet again at both the state and federal level.”

Which is why he thinks the president may be forced to shift from relying on Ohio as a must-win state to relying on a mix of southern states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Florida and western states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

“Combine that with the solidly Democratic Northeast and West Coast, and that could get him to the magic 270 electoral votes, even if he lost Ohio,” he projects.

Which may explain why the president was not speaking about jobs last week but was tackling immigration at his first-ever visit to the border: pure political calculation.

Along the Ohio River, the road curves at the water’s whim. The southern county of Belmont – French for “beautiful mountain” – lives up to its name, with rolling hills to either side.

Towering smokestacks the size of city skyscrapers startle an unsuspecting traveler as they suddenly jut from acres of industrial parks – some working at full capacity, others long abandoned, all of them contrasting with the lush green hills.

Corey Frasnelly is one Democrat in Powhatan Point who still likes Obama. Working at his family’s NAPA auto-parts store, he reserves his affection for the president for the superficial.

“He speaks well,” said Frasnelly, 21. But he admits Obama isn’t doing such a great job with the economy.

Heading east into town from Marietta, an American Recovery Act “stimulus” sign stands along Route 7. Says a man exiting a nearby power plant: “I can’t ever remember a road project being here.”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.