Ohio: Dems' Ground Zero

by SALENA ZITO June 28, 2010
Ohio's capital, which has weathered economic downturns from the Great Depression to today's recession marginally better than Rust Belt neighbors thanks to a diverse economy, now is ground zero for Democrats to prove they really are connected to Main Street.
President Obama kicked off his "Recovery Summer" here on June 18, marking the 10,000th stimulus project. Hard to say what he proved by spending 58 minutes -- 12 speaking, five shaking hands, the rest to and from the airport -- in Ohio.
The event cost taxpayers $500,000 to $1 million -- and construction workers at an adjacent site a day's pay.
A year ago, Ohio handed Obama his first job-approval dip. Last week, the country caught up -- a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed 62 percent of adults feel America is on the wrong track, the first time more Americans disapproved than approved of Obama's performance.
Ohio's electorate is very dissatisfied, even 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 in November. She initially supported freshman U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, D-Alliance, 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 independents and rank-and-file Dems, House races in Ohio are critical to 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."
A rundown of Ohio Democrats' House seats in play:
• District 1 -- A rematch from 2008, when Steve Driehaus relied on Obama-provoked heavy turnout to defeat former Rep. Steve Chabot by 2 points. But Driehaus underperformed Obama by 4 percent while Chabot outdid the GOP presidential ticket by 5 percent.
Bottom line: Chabot will be back in his old seat. Driehaus' health-care vote especially hurt him among pro-life groups that supported him in 2008.
• District 15 -- Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy also was boosted by 2008's turnout, yet won by less than 1 percent and underperformed Obama by 8 percent, suggesting an under-enthusiastic base. Opponent Steve Stivers may be the nation's most impressive GOP candidate; born and raised in Ohio, he served in the state Senate from 2003-08 and is an Ohio National Guard lieutenant colonel.
Bottom line: No one likes Kilroy. Stivers wins.
• District 16 -- Boccieri won this northeastern seat in 2008 after Republicans held it for nearly 60 years. Now, businessman Jim Renacci is poised to defeat the incumbent, who voted with the House Democrat leadership for the stimulus, cap-and-trade and health-care bills.
Bottom line: A "Boy Scout" in '08, Boccieri now has a voting record; Renacci has some baggage but his polling looks good in a district that trends Republican. This may be a pickup for the GOP.
• District 13 -- Rep. Betty Sutton has faced little challenge since she won this seat in 2006, when fellow Democrat Sherrod Brown decided to run for U.S. Senate. Her opponent, businessman Tom Ganley, is prepared to capitalize on voter frustration with Washington. Recent polling shows Ganley leading by 3 points.
Bottom line: A Democrat seat but a lousy incumbent. Sutton's fundraising has been lackluster, even since Ganley got into the race. His willingness to spend forces Democrats to defend themselves in the Cleveland media market.
• District 18 -- In 2006, a bad year for Republicans, Rep. Zack Space beat a weak opponent. He followed his vote for cap-and-trade -- his most devastating for this district -- 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.
FamilySecurityMatters.orgContributing Editor Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and editorial page columnist at thePittsburgh Tribune-Review. She can be reached atszito@tribweb.com.

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