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Ohio Governor May Determine Next President
Yahoo News/Reuters
Front-runner in ultimate swing state worries
By Andrea Hopkins
August 17, 2006

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Most politicians would be happy with a 20-point lead in an opinion poll, but the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor just worries.

Ted Strickland is fighting what he says is the most important election in the United States -- for control of Ohio. It's the mother of all swing states, known for making or breaking presidents in elections going back decades.

In the last one, in 2004, Ohio was the state that assured Republican President George W. Bush of a second term in the White House. But Bush won the state with just 51 percent of the vote, and Ohio can swing the other way too.

"Ohio is truly the swing state. And if we have the governor's office, we can put together the political infrastructure so that, come 2008, we as Ohioans can return America to the American people," Strickland, a six-term U.S. congressman, told a Democratic Forum in Cincinnati.

A former Methodist minister and psychologist, Strickland feels the weight of the November election in a state where voters want change.

"The eyes of the nation are upon us," he said.

Ohio has had a Republican governor since 1991, but corruption scandals have rocked the party. Gov. Bob Taft pleaded no contest last year to ethics violations.

Taft remains in office until his term ends but his unpopularity has spilled over to his would-be successor, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a black Republican backed by conservative Christians.

A SurveyUSA poll last week showed Strickland ahead with 57 percent support to Blackwell's 35 percent. A Columbus Dispatch poll showed Strickland 20 points ahead. But a Wall Street Journal Zogby Interactive online poll in July showed Strickland just 4 points ahead.

Strickland worries that when the race inevitably tightens, momentum could shift to Blackwell.

"There are 90 days left. I don't think this race is over by any stretch of the imagination," Strickland said in an interview.

PARTY FRINGE?

Republican woes have helped Strickland but Blackwell's uncompromising conservatism has also alienated many in his own party. The SurveyUSA poll showed only 22 percent of Republicans would support Strickland, a pro-gun moderate who supports abortion rights but opposes same-sex marriage and tax cuts.

"Ken Blackwell really has some challenges within his own party, because many people do see him as being too much on the fringe of his party," said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University.

Blackwell is anti-abortion and supports lower taxes. He championed the successful 2004 ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in Ohio, winning him the support of many Christian conservatives, including African Americans.

Strickland believes Blackwell's well-known conservative views have helped the Democrats.

"Mr. Blackwell is a known quantity and that's problematic for him," Strickland said. "People view me as an acceptable alternative, even Republicans."

Blackwell also disputes polls that show him far behind, and Strickland's staff acknowledges Blackwell has charisma.

His speeches ebb and flow between podium-pounding passion and jovial jokes about football -- a marked contrast with Strickland's measured delivery.

Blackwell is unapologetic about his social conservatism.

"One of the prices that you pay when you practice the politics of conviction is unpopularity," he told reporters after a speech in Columbus. "I think in the end, people will say 'Even if I don't agree with him on everything, he does stand for something."'

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