President Obama was back in Ohio on Sunday, desperately trying to breathe some enthusiasm into the Democrats' deflated spirits.
It was his 11th visit to the pivotal Midwest state as president, but the soaring oratory and political promises were not working as they did in 2008, and Obama acknowledged as much at a fundraiser in Cleveland that deepening doubts and disappointment have had a corrosive effect on his party's once-confident forces.
"I know that there are times where probably it's hard to recapture that sense of possibility. It's hard sometimes to say, 'Yes, we can.' You start thinking, 'Well, maybe. I don't know.'"
Obama has made some big economic promises in this depressed industrial state, but two years into his recession-plagued presidency, Ohio's unemployment rate has remained at 10 percent and is much worse in many of its major cities.
If you were looking for a textbook example of the Waterloo that awaits Democrats on Nov. 2, Ohio is Exhibit A. It has been trending Democrat for years now, but this year, Republicans are poised for a clean sweep.
Former Congressman John Kasich, who chaired the House Budget Committee, is leading Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat seeking a second term, by 8 percentage points in the latest Ohio Poll.
And in the Senate race, former Congressman Rob Portman, who held the top trade and budget posts in the Bush administration, is crushing Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the Democrats' jobs czar, by 22 points.
The state's three freshmen House Democrats, all of whom voted for the unpopular Obamacare plan -- Mary Jo Kilroy, John Boccieri and Steve Driehaus -- are threatened with losing their seats, too.
Facing a disaster in a state that he carried by nearly 5 points, Obama told Democrats in Columbus Sunday: "Let's be honest. This is a difficult election." No kidding.
But Ohio will be a plate of hors d'oeuvres for the Republicans on election night, which is shaping up to be a nationwide Republican feast, particularly in the House races.Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes the Rothenberg Political Report, and Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report, are the two pre-eminent election trackers in American politics. Last week, both of them significantly enlarged their lists of competitive congressional races.
Cook now puts the number of battleground seats at 97, 90 of them held by Democrats. Rothenberg increased his number of seats up for grabs to 100, with 91 held by Democrats. The GOP needs to win 40 seats to overthrow Speaker Nancy Pelosi and take control of the House.
A lot of toxic issues are fueling this wave election -- government-run Obamacare, $1.3 trillion budget deficits, $14 trillion in total federal debt and higher job-killing taxes to come, but the economy is clearly the overriding issue.
Obama's $1 trillion in stimulus spending has failed to make a dent in the unemployment rate, and he and the Democrats have run out of ideas about what to try next beyond more spending, taxes and debt.
The White House, in a further sign of its impotence, is waiting for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to make yet another attempt to pull the Obama economy out of its rut, and Bernanke signaled Friday that he is gearing up to do just that when the Fed meets on Nov. 2 and 3.
The economy's tepid growth rate "seems unlikely to be much above long-term trend," Bernanke told economists and bankers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. That means, he added, "job creation may not exceed by much the increase in the size of the labor force, implying that the unemployment rate will decline only slowly."
There's nothing wrong with the American economy that pro-growth incentives can't fix. But there have been no sustainable incentives to unlock needed investment capital for economic expansion and new business start-ups, or permanent tax rate relief for struggling small business employers.
"Most of the current administration's major policy mistakes stem from the president's erroneous belief that incentives don't matter," Stanford University economist John Cogan told me.
"This misguided belief has led him to embrace higher tax rates that reduce incentives for entrepreneurs to make job-creating investments and for individuals to save, thereby impeding economic recovery," Cogan said.
The GOP's likely takeover of the House next month, and possibly the Senate, will stop the Obama legislative juggernaut in its tracks. But will there be enough votes to override his certain veto of Republican tax and spending cuts? That depends on the size of the coming wave election.
Whatever happens, legislative gridlock is the more likely scenario to follow until the 2012 presidential election when, depending on who wins the Republican nomination, Obama's reelection will be very much in doubt.