President Obama was focused Wednesday on the 2010 midterm election as he visited Ohio for the ninth time since taking office, but 2012 is clearly on his political radar as well. Ohio is a crucial swing state that often plays a decisive role in presidential voting. "Ohio voted for Obama by 4.5 percent in 2008-- the first time it's gone Democratic since 1996 when voters backed Bill Clinton" says Joe Hallett, chief political writer for the Columbus Dispatch, "And Obama is going to need Ohio again in 2012."
During his visit to Columbus for a kitchen table and backyard chat, the economy was front and center. Democratic political fortunes for the next two years will clearly hinge on the recovery and on jobs, especially in Ohio where unemployment-at 10.5 percent-- is a full percentage point higher than the national average.
"People are hurting. They're angry. And they're fearful about the future," says Hallett. But the president insists we're on the right track. "Slowly, but surely, we are moving in the right direction. We're on the right track. The economy is getting stronger," said the President at the home of Joe and Rhonda Weithman. "But, let's face it, the progress hasn't been fast enough."
The spotlight is on two important races in Ohio. Democratic Governor Ted Strickland is fighting for his political life against challenger John Kasich, the former Republican Congressman. The latest Rasmussen Poll shows Kasich out front with 48 percent and Strickland trailing with 40 percent.
President Obama was the star attraction Wednesday at a fundraising luncheon for Strickland. Donors paid from $500 to $2000 for tickets.
Because of state's stricken economy, says Hallett, "There's an enthusiasm gap in Ohio and President Obama is trying to get the base excited." But it's not clear how successful his appeal might be. "While many blame George W. Bush for the recession, there's also widespread disappointment here with President Obama's policies."
In the second high-profile race, two contenders are vying for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican George Voinovich, who decided not to run for re-election. Rob Portman, George W. Bush's former budget director, is the Republican candidate; and, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher is hoping to win the seat for the Democrats. Portman is up 8 points over Fisher in the latest Rasmussen Poll.
Underscoring the political importance of Ohio, Vice President Joe Biden will also be going there.
The White House confirms Biden will stop in Toledo on Monday. He's expected to visit a complex that includes a Chrysler Jeep Wrangler assembly plant and suppliers that manufacture major components for the vehicle.
And just like his boss did Wednesday, the Vice President will attend a fundraiser for Governor Ted Strickland.
Steve Centanni currently serves a Washington-based national correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1996 as a general news reporter. Click here for more information on Steve Centanni.