Bellwether Buckeye State Again Crucial to GOP Hopes

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

( - Ohio, which provided George W. Bush with crucial and narrow victories in each of the last two presidential elections, may serve as political ground zero again this fall. The Bush administration appears to be pulling out all the stops for Ohio Republican candidates who are down in the polls.

In the last seven days, the state has played host to the president and two other prominent Republicans and been the recipient of a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

President Bush won Ohio in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore and in 2004 over Democrat John Kerry, but in each case won less than 51 percent of the popular vote. All of Ohio's Electoral College votes -- 21 in 2000 and 20 in 2004 -- went to Bush, providing him a crucial ingredient in his two national victories.

But in 2006, pestered by his links to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Ohio U.S. Rep. Bob Ney has decided not to run for re-election and other Republicans are hoping the national GOP can help their struggling campaigns.

President Bush was in Lake County, Ohio, on Aug. 2 to praise local leaders for their response to recent floods. On Monday, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced the educational grant, which she said would "provide needed income support for Ohioans who need to invest time and skills training to prepare for new careers." On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales visited an alcohol and drug abuse treatment center in Ohio. And Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ken Melhman will conclude a series of political rallies in the state on Wednesday on behalf of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine.

The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday pointed to what it said were low polling numbers for President Bush and Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft, necessitating the Bush administration's heavy political commitment to the state.

A Survey USA poll released July 18 showed President Bush with a 33 percent approval rating among Ohioans. Taft has the lowest approval rating of any governor in the United States at 17 percent.

"[It's] damage control," DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said of the Republican presence in Ohio. Ney is "just a symptom of a bigger problem that Republicans have in Ohio and Washington, which is both the culture of corruption and also the do-nothing Congress in Washington and the fact that the Bush administration and the Republican leadership have been failures for Ohio."

Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told Cybercast News Service that the Republican focus on Ohio is nothing new and is not a response to Bush's low approval rating there.

"I think there's been an effort on the part of Republicans for a long time to reach out to a number of target states, including Ohio," McLear said. "Ohio's the sixth or seventh largest state in the union so there's obviously going to be a lot of activity on behalf of the administration."

Appearances by high-profile Republicans and the promise of $2.4 million is not an attempt to boost the popularity of Bush and Taft, said McLear, because neither man is on the ballot this year.

McLear said there is an effort to promote Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in his race for the Senate against Democratic U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown and to promote Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell in his race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland to replace Taft in the governor's mansion.

He said Ohioans are "going to see that the Republicans on the ticket stand for progress and have real solutions for the challenges that face Ohio. The Democrats do not."

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