WASHINGTON -- President Obama returned to Ohio this week, preaching his familiar message to this beleaguered state's doubting voters that the economy was "moving in the right direction."
With the Buckeye State's jobless rate stuck at 10.5 percent, one of the highest in the country, Obama's dubious assertion doesn't appear to be selling. Ohio has lost more than 130,000 jobs since he signed his $800-billion spending stimulus into law.
And that's not the only presidential message falling flat in the state. Obama and his party are hoping to convince enough Ohioans that if they vote Republican in November, it will only bring back the George W. Bush-era policies that he claims led to the 2008 recession.
But a new Rasmussen poll shows that former Bush administration official Rob Portman is maintaining his strong lead over Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the state's failed Democratic jobs czar, among likely voters in the open U.S. Senate race. Portman draws 45 percent support compared to Fisher's pathetic 37 percent in this pivotal Democrat-leaning Midwestern state that will be a strategic battleground in the 2012 presidential election. Thirteen percent remain undecided and 5 percent prefer someone else.
Portman, a former congressman who was director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget and before that Bush's U.S. Trade Representative, has maintained his support throughout the year, comfortably staying in the mid-40s range. But Fisher's latest numbers represent "his lowest level of support since regular tracking of the race began in February," according to Rasmussen Reports.
"When leaners are included in the totals, Portman's lead grows from eight points to nine. With the leaners, 48 percent will vote for Portman and 39 percent for Fisher," Rasmussen says.
If Democrats were looking for convincing evidence that playing the blame Bush game isn't selling among voters, Ohio is Exhibit A.
Perhaps no other Republican Senate candidate is tied more to two hot button issues under the Bush administration than Portman: the escalating budget and trade.
Democrats blame Bush for having the worst record on both issues, when in fact the deficit was virtually cut in half by 2007 and formed just a small fraction of Obama's giant $1.5 trillion deficits last year, this year and next year.
Fisher has been bashing Bush/Portman trade policies, saying that they led to huge job losses and undermined the nation's economy. In fact, American exports grew to $1.6 trillion a year under Bush and unemployment was a low 4.6 percent the year before the 2008 presidential election.
Political analyst Erin McPike writes on the Real Clear Politics website that Portman "has endured a spate of attacks from Democrats who refer to him as 'the architect of President Bush's economic agenda,' but polling in the state has been trending slowly in his direction nevertheless."
The state's poor economy and high unemployment -- tied (Oregon) for the ninth worst in the country -- is the driving force behind voter flight from the Democrats. But Fisher has also run a disastrous campaign. He has not come up with a substantive plan to spur economic growth and jobs. Advisers and staffers have left his campaign. He has struggled with poor fundraising. He's focused largely on attacking Portman.
"People want to see results, not partisan attacks," Portman says. Speaking earlier this month at an economic development forum in Columbus, Portman said that in talks with business people around the state, "One message comes through clearly: Government has a role to play as a partner -- but government does not create jobs. We need to focus on private sector job growth in Ohio. (Obama's) Cap and trade, health care reform and card check, higher taxes, more regulations and record deficits is not the road to job growth and economic development."
Looking for further evidence that the blame Bush argument isn't working for the Democrats? The Ohio governor's race is Exhibit B. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, under whose leadership the Ohio unemployment rate has grown progressively worse, is struggling in his bid for a second term against Republican front-runner John Kasch.
Obama has been to the state repeatedly in the past year, visiting businesses he says were helped by his economic stimulus plan, but with little evidence of significant job creation in the last two years.
"Only six percent of Ohio voters describe the economy as good or excellent, while 61 percent rate it as poor," Rasmussen reports. Kasich, who is making the economy and jobs the central focus of his campaign, now leads by eight points, shifting the race from a toss-up to leaning Republican, according to this week's Rasmussen poll. When leaners are added, Kasich's lead rises to 52 percent for the former House Budget Committee chairman and 42 percent for Gov. Strickland.
It is an axiom of American politics that elections are about the future, not the past. Ohioans are going to vote on the economy in November and not on George W. Bush, but in doing so, they will be voting for two of Bush's longtime political allies.