Ohio Leans Toward Democrat for Governor

Ted Strickland, the Democrat in Ohio's gubernatorial race, now holds a two-to-one lead over Republican Ken Blackwell. Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, has spent the past two days in Ohio, polling for statewide races. Robert Siegel talks with Brown.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

More now on politics in Ohio, where there are races both for governor and also for senator. And there are some new polls that should be very worrying for the GOP. Peter Brown works at the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which has done some of the Ohio polling. And Peter Brown, we just heard a clip for Republican candidate for governor, Ken Blackwell. Your poll shows him not only trailing, but trailing by even more than he was trailing a couple of weeks ago. That seemed almost impossible. What's happening?

Mr. PETER BROWN (Quinnipiac University Polling Institute): Right. He was down 21 points when we did the survey a month ago, and now he's down 27. One of the problems he's having is that he's not getting a normal Republican vote. For instance, he's only getting 47 percent of the white evangelical-Christian vote in a state that George Bush, two years ago, when he carried it narrowly, got 76 percent. A Republican who can't do very well among white evangelical Christians is not going to win a statewide election.

SIEGEL: He is opposed by Ohio Congressman Ted Strickland, a Democrat from southern Ohio. Strickland, I gather, conversely must be doing well with those very same constituencies.

Mr. BROWN: He is. Again, Blackwell is narrowly, by a 47 to 44 percent margin, winning white evangelical Christians, but 44 percent is a humongous amount for a Democratic candidate in a state like Ohio among white evangelical Christians. One of the things that Strickland has going for them is, he is fact a Methodist minister and seems to be able to talk the language that appeals more to white evangelical Christians. But clearly it's not just that. The Republicans have a perfect storm hitting them in Ohio. They have a governor who has a job approval rating of 11 percent.

SIEGEL: That's Governor Taft.

Mr. BROWN: That's correct. His administration has been wracked by ethics problems. There's a Republican president who's job approval rating is 39, which is not good but obviously dwarfs Bob Taft's. And the Republicans have just fallen apart. A month ago, for instance, in a Senate race, Mike DeWine, the incumbent U.S. senator, two-termer, was trailing Sherrod Brown, the Democratic nominee, by one point. Now he's down by 12 points.

SIEGEL: Sherrod Brown says he voted against going to war in Iraq and if Senator DeWine have been doing his job on the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, he says, we wouldn't be in Iraq. How big and issue is Iraq for voters in Ohio in that race?

Mr. BROWN: Actually, it's not as big as one might think. Only 19 percent of those who say they're going to vote for Sherrod Brown say they're doing it because of his stand on Iraq.

SIEGEL: Why are they doing it for then? What issues...

Mr. BROWN: Well, 24 percent say other issues not defined, 18 percent say that it's because of his criticism of President Bush, nine percent cite Brown's experience, eight percent cite his personal qualities. So Iraq is not an overwhelming issue. Now, you can look at the criticism of Bush as being partially Iraq.

SIEGEL: I just wanted to run one number past you. This isn't from your Quinnipiac University poll. This is from the New York Times poll. They asked people this question. Think about the things Congress has done during the past year. Is there any one thing that Congress has done in the past year that stands out in your mind? If yes, what is that? And the first choice was nothing, and that was 72 percent of the people said they couldn't think of anything that Congress had done in the past year that stood out.

Mr. BROWN: Well, we didn't - we asked a question that gets at that issue. We asked what Ohio voters' preference were for who controlled Congress, and by 52 to 32 percent margin they said Democrats. And then we asked, does the record of the Bush administration and the Republicans who control Congress make you more likely to vote for Republicans waiting for office in Ohio or less likely? And 44 percent said less likely, 15 percent said more likely. I think that tends to confirm the notion that Congress and the Republican Congress is having an effect to the downside on Republican candidates.

SIEGEL: Well, Peter Brown, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. BROWN: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute talking about polls they and others have done in the state of Ohio. He spoke to us from Orlando, Florida.

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