COLUMBUS – From the Great Depression to today’s recession, Ohio’s capital has weathered economic downturns marginally better than her Rust Belt neighbors thanks to a diverse economy.
Now it is now ground-zero for Democrats to prove they really are connected to Main Street’s needs.
President Obama came here on June 18 to prove just that, with a kick-off to his “Summer of Recovery” marking the 10,000th stimulus project. Hard to say what he proved by spending 58 minutes in the state – 12 of them speaking, 5 shaking hands, the rest getting back and forth from the airport.
With use of Air Force One billing out at $100,000 per hour, and adding the cost of military aircraft ferrying limos and Secret Service vehicles, the event cost taxpayers $500,000 to $1 million. It also cost the construction workers at an adjacent site a day’s pay – all for a 720-second speech on economic recovery.
A year ago Ohio showed her displeasure by handing Obama his first dip in job-approval ratings. The country caught up with the Buckeye State last week in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that showed 62 percent of adults feel America is on the wrong track; it also marked the first time more people disapprove than approve of Obama's performance.
A trip across the state reveals a very dissatisfied electorate, even among Democrats such as Cheryl Guy, 56, of Canton. “To put it in the simplest terms, this country is heading in the wrong direction, and they have no idea who we are or how we feel out here,” she says of Team Obama.
Guy, a registered nurse, says voters need to put on the brakes, starting with November’s midterm election. She initially supported freshman U.S. Rep. Ryan Boccieri, D-Alliance, who represents chunks of Northeast Ohio, but “after his appalling vote for the health-care (bill), he has lost my support.”
With enthusiasm for Obama and his party diving among centrist, independent voters as well as rank-and-file Democrats, House races in Ohio are critical to the control of Congress.
“At the moment, the Democrats have a 10-8 advantage over the Republicans in who we send to the House,” explains Miami University of Ohio political-science professor Chris Kelly. “But that will likely change some after the 2010 elections … it could very well be 10-8 in favor of Republicans.”
Here is a rundown of congressional seats held by Ohio Democrats that are in play:
District 1 – A rematch from 2008, when Steve Driehaus relied on an Obama-provoked heavy turnout to defeat former Rep. Steve Chabot by 2 points. However, Driehaus underperformed Obama by 4 percent, while Chabot ran ahead of the GOP presidential ticket by 5 percent.
BOTTOM LINE: Chabot will be back in his old seat. Driehaus’ health-care vote was bad but it especially hurt him among pro-life groups in the district, who supported him in 2008.
Dist. 15 – Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy also was boosted by 2008’s historic voter turnout, yet she won by less than 1 percent; she underperformed Obama by 8 percent, suggesting an under-enthusiastic base. Opponent Steve Stivers may be the most impressive GOP candidate in the country; born and raised in Ohio, he served in the state Senate from 2003 through 2008 and is a lieutenant colonel in the Ohio National Guard.
BOTTOM LINE: No one likes Mary Jo Kilroy. Stivers wins.
Dist. 16 - John Boccieri won this northeastern Ohio seat in 2008 after Republicans held it for nearly 60 years. Now businessman Jim Renacci is poised to defeat him after the incumbent defined himself as a reliable vote for the House Democratic leadership. Boccieri supported the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health-care bills; his off-and-on support for health care resonated most among voters.
BOTTOM LINE: Boccieri was a Boy Scout when he ran in ’08 but now has a voting record; Renacci has some baggage but his polling looks good in a district that trends Republican. This may be a pick-up for the GOP.
Dist. 13 – Rep. Betty Sutton won this seat in 2006 when fellow Democrat Sherrod Brown decided to run for the U.S. Senate, and she has held it with very little challenge. Her opponent this time, businessman Tom Ganley, is prepared to capitalize on voter frustration with Washington. Recent polling shows this race to be competitive, with Ganley leading by 3 points.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a Democrat seat, but Sutton is a lousy incumbent; her fundraising has been lackluster, even after Ganley got in the race. The district’s makeup is tough but Ganley’s willingness to spend money forces Democrats to defend themselves in the Cleveland media market.
Dist. 18 – Rep. Zack Space won in 2006 against a weak opponent in a bad year for Republicans. His vote in favor of cap-and-trade was his most devastating for this district; he followed that by supporting health-care “reform.” Republicans were pleased when State Sen. Bob Gibbs squeaked by in the primary but his general-election campaign has been slow to get going.
BOTTOM LINE: Gibbs must raise a lot more money to make this a Republican gain.