Ohio a Battleground State in November Elections

Jennifer Duffy, political analyst and managing editor for the Cook Report, and Amy Walter, senior editor for the Cook Report, talk with Robert Siegel about the significance of swing-state Ohio's gubernatorial and congressional elections later this year.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Both the president and the vice president spoke today in Ohio, a state of great political importance. Ohio elects a governor this year. The incumbent is an unpopular Republican, and one of the state's two Republican senators is up for reelection. It's likely to be a key battleground state in November, in part because it is considered a swing state, one that can go to the Democrats or the Republicans. Well, joining us to talk about Ohio and other developments on the political landscape are Jennifer Duffy and Amy Walter of the Cook Report. Jennifer Duffy is managing editor and watches the Senate as well as the gubernatorial races. Welcome back to the program.

Ms. JENNIFER DUFFY (Managing editor and political analyst, Cook Report): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And Amy Walter, political analyst and senior editor, watches House races. Nice to have you here.

Ms. AMY WALTER (Senior editor and political analyst, Cook Report): Thank you.

SIEGEL: Let's start, first of all, Jennifer Duffy, with President Bush went to Ohio. How would you describe President Bush's standing in Ohio nowadays?

Ms. DUFFY: Like many states, the president's ratings are sagging in Ohio. You know, of the states where, that went for him in 2004, Ohio did very narrowly, so it's probably hurting there more than, say, South Dakota, a state that he won by 20 plus points. You know, their concerns are about Iraq, the economy, and, again, the scandals that are both, you know, happening at the state level and at the federal level.

SIEGEL: Ohio and the governorship. What's the situation there?

Ms. DUFFY: You know, Ohio is probably ground zero in this election cycle for this whole notion of Republicans and the culture of corruption. There are a number of scandals enveloping the Taft Administration, state government, that have really taken a toll on almost any Republican in the state, regardless of the office they hold. The governorship there is going to be hotly contested. Because of that, a Senate race will be contested. Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican, is not inherently vulnerable. But because it's Ohio, because he's a Republican, he's getting weighed down by all this scandal. Therefore, he polled a very competitive Democratic opponent, Congressman Sherrod Brown. This is going to be a very close race.

SIEGEL: Amy Walter, I assume that's one measure of how anxious people are, or how encouraged they are, what kind of candidates are turning up for races. In the House races, are there competitive elections?

Ms. WALTER: Well, you know, that's actually a very interesting question, because you would suspect that given this political environment it would be a piece of cake to encourage very strong Democrats to get in and to run. And, actually, it's been a little more difficult than that. There are five incumbent Republicans who sit in marginal districts in the state, another one who does not sit in a marginal district but is in a very tough race because of ethics concerns, that's Bob Ney. But of those five, Democrats were only able to get really strong candidates in two of those races. So we're going to see a really tough fight for Deborah Pryce's seat. She's in the leadership, long-time member from Columbus area, and Steve Chabot, another Republican incumbent from Cincinnati.

SIEGEL: The president was there talking about Iraq. Are the House races likely to be about Iraq, or are they likely to be about much more local or economic issues?

Ms. WALTER: Well, there's no doubt that Iraq is a tremendous influence in this election. It's going to serve as a backdrop. I think the question about how it becomes an issue is a very interesting one, because there are not easy contrasts here between the two parties or the candidates on the issue. So it's sort of enveloping these races, but in terms of specifics it becomes to talk about. But I think especially in a place like Ohio, as Jen pointed out, you have scandal concerns, and then the economy is a very, very big issue in the state.

SIEGEL: And Amy Walter, a question regarding the significance of the war issue in Ohio, it was certainly brought home by the Congressional race near Cincinnati to fill the seat of Rob Portman when he became the trade representative. Democrats recruited a veteran, he came close but lost in a Republican district, and now he feels jilted by the Democratic Party.

Ms. AMY WALTER (Senior Editor, Cook Report): You know, the interesting thing about that special election was the fact that he was a veteran was interesting...

SIEGEL: This is Hackett.

Ms. WALTER: This is Paul Hackett, excuse me, yes. At the same time, what Hackett was able to do so well is not as much his concerns about the war that were center stage, but he was able to very effectively tie Jean Schmidt both to the very scandal-plagued, as we discussed, Taft Administration, as well as try to tie her with the president and call her a rubber stamp. That issue translated more favorably to him than any sort of anti-war sentiment.

SIEGEL: Not well enough to give him a victory for the seat.

Ms. WALTER: To win, no, but, I mean, I think what he was able to effectively do, and I think this is where Democrats are going to focus so much of their attention, is trying to tie Republicans to an unpopular governor, an unpopular president, rather than to make it a referendum on the war.

SIEGEL: Talk about an unpopular governor, Governor Taft is profoundly, he's term limited so he can't run again, but he is profoundly unpopular.

Ms. JENNIFER DUFFY (Political Analyst and Managing Editor): Yes his approval rating is about 15 percent and even President Nixon never saw his number go that low even right before he resigned.

SIEGEL: But he is the titular leader of the Republican Party in Ohio.

Ms. WALTER: Absolutely. One of the things plaguing Republicans here is that they have held the governorship for 16 years. No party has done that in Ohio in this century. Every eights years, it flips back and forth. So there is, you know, for a lot of voters, Republican governors are all they remember.

SIEGEL: When you speak of Ohio as ground zero, it can be said this is the state that reelected George Bush.

Ms. WALTER: This is the state that barely reelected George Bush. The reason that Bush won the state was the Republican Party's ability to turn out more voters than they'd ever had. Can they replicate that in 2006? They have a base that is a little bit more fractured than it's ever been, they're certainly fatigued. This administration's asked a lot of them in six years, are they going to turn out and vote? If they don't turn out, Republicans are going to have a very bad year in Ohio.

SIEGEL: When we speak of a place like Ohio, Jennifer Duffy, is Ohio a microcosm of something bigger in this election cycle? Is it unusual or unique?

Ms. DUFFY: I think that at the end of the day we will point to Ohio as being the microcosm for the way scandal played out, the way national security played out. I mean, Democrat Sherrod Brown, running in the Senate, is making this very interesting connection between trade and national security. You know, let's see how voters accept that. But I think we will look to Ohio to learn all the lessons about this election.

SIEGEL: Amy Walter, what do you think about that?

Ms. WALTER: Well, I agree with that and I think that, fundamentally, if this idea about scandal and corruption is going to play anywhere, it will play in Ohio. But just because it works in Ohio does not mean it can translate nationally simply because the issues in Ohio are so much more dramatic and because they've had a one-party government in the state for so long.

SIEGEL: Amy Walter and Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Report, thank you both very much for coming here today.

Ms. DUFFY: Thank you.

Ms. WALTER: Thank you.

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