Salena Zito

On the federal level, Ohio Republicans defeated five incumbent Democrats, winning 13 of 18 U.S. House seats and helping to make Ohio’s John Boehner the next House Speaker.

Republicans also retained a U.S. Senate seat by electing Rob Portman, and they scored a 77 percent success rate in down-ballot county races.

That reflects a lot of voter anger.

Even so, Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio, doesn’t think Obama “has the problem in Ohio that some people think, at least not right now.”

“If the economy continues to improve and unemployment continues to fall,” he said, “I think Obama has the edge.”

For as long as people in Steubenville can remember, jobs have dominated local concerns; unemployment here peaked at 15 percent in 2010. For years, the town has billed itself as a “ ’Burb of the ’Burgh” – a suburb of Pittsburgh – for economic development.

Yet the promise of two large shale-gas fields, Utica and Marcellus, is underground – and that is about to change everything.

Steve McCloskey works in Pittsburgh, lives in West Virginia, and spends a lot of time in Steubenville, where he grew up. Dressed in full Steelers gear, he brought his mother to hear Pennsylvania’s former U.S. senator, Rick Santorum, speak here late last month.

“I’m not sure who I am voting for,” he said, “but I do know I am not voting for Obama.”

Voters here and in other parts of Ohio bear a striking resemblance to Western Pennsylvania voters – rural, blue-collar, economically disaffected and pretty disgusted with the existing power structure, according to Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Shippensburg University.

Dagnes can’t predict how November’s election will go but is confident Ohio will be of paramount importance.

“The evidence,” she says, “is in the frequency of Obama's visits.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.