MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Barack Obama is also courting Clinton surrogates, the elected officials and other high-profile supporters who campaigned for his one-time rival. Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio is one of them. He was an early and passionate Clinton supporter, and he helped her score a big win in Ohio. Now the question is, can Strickland help Obama win his battleground state in a match-up with John McCain? Governor Strickland, who's been mentioned as a vice presidential prospect, spoke with us today from the State House in Columbus. On a scale of one to 10, he says the level of difficulty Obama will face in trying to win Ohio is about a five.
Governor TED STRICKLAND: (Democrat, Ohio): Well, it's difficult for any candidate to win Ohio, Republican or Democratic candidate. Ohio is one of those swing states and in order to win Ohio, you've got to appeal to a very diverse state. We have a little bit of everything in Ohio that is found in the larger country. And I do believe, though, that the candidate that wins Ohio will be the candidate that talks specifically and convincingly about the economic circumstances facing our state and our nation.
NORRIS: You know, it seems like Barack Obama has an uphill climb there. He carried only five of the state's 88 counties.
Gov. STRICKLAND: He carried the larger metropolitan areas of Ohio, our larger cities. But it is true that in order to carry Ohio, you have to appeal to all of Ohio. And I think he can be successful, because I think he's going to have an economic message that will have appeal to the people of Ohio who are facing very difficult economic circumstances. Whichever candidate has the most compelling economic message, I believe, will be the candidate that carries Ohio in November.
NORRIS: Governor, it's interesting to listen to you talk about Barack Obama's economic message. When you announced your endorsement, you issued a statement that said Ohioans have suffered as a result of the failed policies of the Bush administration. You said that Ohioans desperately want real, meaningful change, and you said that I believe Barack Obama will bring that change. And it's interesting because all throughout the primary season, you were saying just the opposite thing. You were saying that he did not have the right prescription for the economy.
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I was a very strong supporter of Senator Clinton. I think she - I think she won Ohio because she did talk convincingly about what needed to be done. And Senator Obama, as you know, has started this general election campaign by talking first and most convincingly about the economy of our nation. He is going to address these economic problems. And I think when he does that, Ohio will respond, and the support that went to Senator Clinton in the primary will be magnified on November the 4th. And I think Ohio will vote for Obama and Obama, consequently, will be the next president.
NORRIS: Now, you said Barack Obama needs to campaign all throughout the state; that means going into the Appalachian Crescent, the area that you actually hail from in the state.
Gov. STRICKLAND: Absolutely.
NORRIS: There's strong evidence that Barack Obama has had real difficulties winning over working-class voters all throughout Appalachia, in Ohio and Kentucky and West Virginia, parts of Pennsylvania. Why, in your estimation, is there such strong resistance to Obama in these pockets?
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I have been asked if there may be a racial element to this, and let me be just real candid about that. I think race involves everything that happens in this country, wherever it occurs - large cities, small town, or any region of our country. But I can also tell you that there are two ways to run statewide in Ohio. You can use the John Kerry approach, or you can use the Ted Strickland approach.
And I have suggested to Senator Obama's campaign leadership that they need to use the Ted Strickland approach. Now, what is that approach? That approach is recognizing that Ohio is big and diverse, that there are different economies in Ohio, and that it is important to reach out to all of Ohio. And I believe Barack Obama can and will carry Ohio because I think he's going to understand that you can't just appeal to the large, metropolitan areas and ignore or neglect the rest of the state.
NORRIS: If you're out campaigning with Barack Obama with the fervor that you've just described in the course of this interview, should we see that as a bit of an audition for you?
Gov. STRICKLAND: Absolutely not.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Gov. STRICKLAND: If drafted, I will not run - nominated, I will not accept. And if elected, I will not serve. So, I don't know how more crystal clear I can be.
NORRIS: Don't they all say that, though?
Gov. STRICKLAND: No. I don't think they all say that. I've heard people say, you know, if I was asked, it would certainly be something I would have to consider. That does not mean that, you know, that I am any less committed to helping Barack Obama become the next president.
NORRIS: Governor Strickland, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I've enjoyed talking with you. You have a good day.
NORRIS: You too, sir.
That was Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio. He's a Democrat.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.