Salena Zito

Democrats also are strong along the Pennsylvania border around Youngstown. And they recently turned Columbus into a blue island in the red sea of central and western Ohio, where Republican support is the strongest.

“The energy-rich hills of southeastern Ohio are traditionally competitive grounds for both parties,” Nichols said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson is a Republican representing the 6th Congressional district that makes up most of that southeastern Ohio territory that has been held historically by larger-than-life Democrats such as former congressman and governor Ted Strickland.

According to Johnson, the region is swinging strongly for Republicans this time.

“They are unhappy and disconnected by the policies of the president,” he said of voters there.

He points to the health-care law and the stealth cap-and-trade regulations on the coal and natural gas industries – issues on which he won a surprise victory over then-congressman Charlie Wilson in 2010 – as still fierce motivators to vote Republican.

Romney will not be able to simply rely on such extreme dissatisfaction to drive swing voters into his camp. Ohio voters are dissatisfied enough with Obama to cost him the state; however, they are not yet sold sufficiently on Romney to indicate to pollsters whether they will make the switch in November.

In short, a bad economy has provided Romney the opportunity to upset Obama. Now, he has to seize it.

To do so, Romney must find a way to connect with working men and women of America, said Nichols.

“He cannot rely on economics or policy disagreements to drive dissatisfaction,” he explained. “Rather, Romney must exude the kind of command presence and confidence that converts potential supporters into followers.”

His conclusion: If Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, “convince the disaffected working folks of Ohio that Romney is going to win, he probably will.”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.