Ohio Candidates Cozy Up to Popular Governor

Posted July 30, 2008 at 6:39pm

It seems Buckeye State Congressional hopefuls can’t get enough of first-term Gov. Ted Strickland (D).

“Gov. Strickland is wildly popular, and Ted and I are very close,” said Ohio state Sen. John Boccieri, the Democratic nominee in the 16th district open-seat race.

Democrats aren’t the only Ohioans who want to be seen next to Strickland, a conservative Democrat, ex-Congressman and former Methodist minister who boasts some of the highest approval ratings in the state. But it’s still uncertain how much Strickland’s folksy appeal to independent and religious voters will carry over into the state’s handful of competitive Congressional races.

Although Strickland does not rank among the nation’s most popular governors, he’s still seen as a long-overdue redeemer for Ohio Democrats, who had not elected a governor since 1991. Before Strickland’s election in 2006, Democrats often relied on former Sen. John Glenn (D) to carry the banner and hold major fundraisers for candidates across the state.

Strickland had an approval rating of 55 percent two months ago, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. But when broken down by region, Strickland is most popular in the central, northeastern, northwestern and southeastern parts of the state. He is less popular in the southwest and west-central portion of the state, with approval ratings of 42 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

According to the same data, the former Congressman is most popular in the Columbus area, where state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) and Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D) are competing in one of the most competitive Congressional races in the country.

Stivers, considered by national Republicans to be one of their best recruits this cycle, is not afraid to get close to the popular governor.

“Sen. Stivers has worked closely with Gov. Strickland and considers him a friend,” Stivers campaign manager Mike Hartley said. “Just because the governor has good favorable ratings doesn’t mean it will transfer to Mary Jo, who traditionally has had high negatives.”

Kilroy also has a long history with the governor: She and her husband started introducing him into their circle in 1996, and Strickland called her up personally to recruit her to run for Congress the first time in 2006, according to a Democratic aide.

“As a community leader, Franklin County Commissioner, mother and wife, Mary Jo Kilroy shares our values,” Strickland wrote in a fundraising e-mail for Kilroy last December. “She will provide a strong voice for central Ohio and fight for our families, bringing responsibility and accountability to Washington.”

But it appears Strickland might not be as helpful in the southern parts of the state, notably the competitive 1st and 2nd district races. In the Cincinnati-based 1st district, Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is being challenged by state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D).

Driehaus campaign manager Melissa Wideman said Strickland made an appearance in the district within the last month.

“Gov. Strickland has been down and has been involved in the campaign,” Wideman said. “The governor’s support is strong and wide here in Cincinnati and is a strong asset to our campaign.”

But Cincinnati is one area in which Strickland’s appeal remains untested. Despite winning by large margins across the state in 2006, he did not do as well in Cincinnati in part, some believe, because his Republican opponent Ken Blackwell used to be the mayor.

Strickland is likely to be especially popular in his former Congressional territory, the 6th district seat now held by Rep. Charlie Wilson (D). But parts of the 6th district he used to represent in the 1990s, before the most recent redistricting, are now in the 2nd district, where controversial Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) is facing a 2006 race rematch with physician Vic Wulsin (D).

According to Wulsin’s campaign, Strickland is especially popular in the eastern part of the district that he formerly represented. Wulsin campaign spokesman Kevin Franck said the governor has not done any fundraising events yet for their campaign, but they have plans to schedule an event after Labor Day.

“The governor and Vic spoke over the weekend, and the governor reiterated his offer to support Vic however he could,” Franck said.

Strickland has been especially active in the 16th district, where Boccieri recently walked with him in a parade in Wooster. The Democratic governor has done half a dozen fundraisers and several campaign events with him, he added. Boccieri was among the Democrats mentioned as potential candidates for Strickland’s seat in 2006, but he deferred to Wilson.

Though Boccieri and Strickland work in the state Capitol together, the governor is also more popular in the 16th district, which has many religious and independent voters in the Republican-leaning western counties.

“Whether you are in a Democratic district or a Republican district … Ted Strickland connects well with people,” Boccieri said.