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Political Heavy Hitters Gather in Ohio

As Ohio Democrats prep for a final blowout weekend filled with rallies, welcoming both President Obama and former President Clinton, Republican governors from across the country are hitting the Buckeye State today to campaign for challenger John Kasich, a former nine-term congressman who has consistently led the polls by a single digit margin.

Ohio incumbent Governor Democrat Ted Strickland is battling to hold his seat against Kasich, former chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Budget. The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls puts Kasich up 3.2 points over Strickland and a Fox News Poll released Tuesday shows Kasich up by 4 points, 47 percent to 43 percent.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will join Kasich at a rally in historic Lebanon.Ohio has long been considered a quintessential bellwether state and strategically valuable in presidential elections. Ohio voters have an uncanny ability to pick presidents, accurately voting for the winners every year since 1964. Strategists say it's part of the reason President Obama has spent so much time here.

Barbour and Pawlenty are also widely considered likely contenders to run for the White House in 2012. Political analysts say having a same-party governor in place can help give candidates an edge, especially in a close race.

Ohio State University professor Paul Beck has been tracking state and national politics for decades and believes governors can play a valuable role when presidential contenders arrive in town.

"Having a governor in place still brings you an on-the-ground organization. It brings you the kind of support you can get when you come to a state, turning out crowds, doing a variety of other things," says Beck.

In 2006 Strickland won the race for governor by a wide margin following 16 years of Republican rule.

Then Mr. Obama took the state in the 2008 presidential election, beating McCain 51 percent to 47 precent in a state that backed President Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

Now, in 2010, unemployment is high and sustained job losses are haunting the labor sector. Since the stimulus was signed in February of 2009, the state has shed more than 166,000 jobs.

Strickland is facing a tough battle but it's clear the White House sees the race as critical and Ohio as strategically important. President Obama has made eleven trips to the state since taking office and will headline his final major rally before election day in Cleveland on Sunday.

The latest Fox News Poll asked likely voters if Obama administration policies have helped or hurt the Ohio economy. Forty-eight percent said they hurt, 23 percent said they helped, and 24 percent said they've made no difference.

Molly Line joined Fox News Channel as a Boston-based correspondent in January 2006.