Salena Zito

In the 2010 midterms, Ohio went Republican big-time. Its U.S. House and Senate seats went majority GOP; so did the governor’s office. Since then, Governor John Kasich has seen his approval rating tank over a bruising, losing referendum fight in November.

Obama isn't doing well either, however.

Quinnipiac University’s latest rating of Kasich came out in early December and showed him with 38 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval; Obama was at 41 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval, in the same poll.

If the president starts to pick up steam this summer, look for him to spend the bulk of his time in Southeast Ohio where the state’s elections are won or lost, Kondik said.

“Southeast Ohio, much like Western Pennsylvania, is working-class white. Those voters have never been particularly warm to Obama and are not now,” he added.

Kondik looks at Ohio as five regions: Northeast (Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Lorain, Elyria); Central (Columbus and surrounding counties); Northwest (Democrat-heavy Toledo and surrounding GOP counties); Southeast (rural Ohio River counties); and the conservative Southwest.

Obama seems to be polling slightly better in Ohio than in another battleground, Florida, Kondik said. “But Ohio is very much in the toss-up category, likely to move with the country one way or the other depending on the national mood next year.”

If jobs and the economy remain the central issue, Ohio will move out of the toss-up category and towards Republicans.

Last Thursday, jobless claims rose and holiday retail results were reported as remarkably flat, yet another sign of a wobbly economy – and a hard re-election sales pitch for the president, especially in hard-hit areas like Southeast Ohio.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.