The Magazine

As Ohio Goes . . .

Souring on Obama.

Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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We’ll create five million new, high-wage jobs by investing in the renewable sources of energy that will eliminate the oil we currently import from the Middle East in ten years, and we’ll create two million jobs by rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools, and bridges.

Remaking the economy, Obama declared, “is why I’m running for president of the United States of America.” And it was largely why the voters elected him three weeks later. With both houses of Congress solidly controlled by Democrats, President Obama and his party had no problem passing the $787 billion “American Reinvestment and Recovery Act”—the stimulus. 

It hasn’t worked. 

Since President Obama signed the stimulus bill on February 17, 2009, the economy has shed an additional 2.35 million jobs. The stimulus is a failure even by the White House’s own standards. Christina Romer, President Obama’s top economic adviser, said that the stimulus would keep unemployment under 8 percent. Unemployment was 6.6 percent in October 2008, when Obama gave his speech, and 7.7 percent when he took office. After 18 months of “emergency” spending designed to jump-start the economy, it’s now 9.5 percent, and many economists believe it will return to double-digits when discouraged workers not currently looking for work once again start seeking employment. The White House projected that with stimulus spending unemployment right now would be just 7.5 percent. 

Although the White House is working hard to convince the country that the stimulus has “saved or created” jobs, voters aren’t buying. A CBS/New York Times poll in mid-July found that a majority of Americans (74 percent) believe that the stimulus has had no effect on the economy (56 percent) or worsened it (18 percent). Fifty-four percent of those surveyed disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy and just 40 percent approve. Most telling, perhaps, is Obama’s overall approval rating. It was 62 percent in February 2009, with only 25 percent disapproval. Today, just 46 percent of Americans approve of his performance and 46 percent disapprove.

In Lucas County, these abstract numbers come to life. Obama beat John McCain here 65-34. But the May 2010 primaries demonstrated a shift in Democratic fortunes. Ohio voters who want to vote in party primaries have to declare an affiliation. (Voters also have the option of choosing an “issues only” ballot. Those who do so do not have to pick a party.) On primary day this spring, May 4, Republicans had a 10-to-1 advantage in crossovers. Some 392 voters switched their registration from Republican to Democrat, but 3,743 switched their registration from Democrat to Republican. This, despite the fact that the only competitive primary in Ohio this spring was for the Democratic nomination for Senate. (Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner by 10 points and will face former Republican representative Rob Portman this fall.) 

Republicans also had a strong advantage in voters who switched from “issues only” ballots in 2008 to a party ballot in 2010. Some 251 “issues only” voters chose Democratic ballots this year and 699 opted to align with Republicans—again, in a county that went for Obama almost 2-1.

Mark Wagoner, a Republican state senator whose district covers half of Lucas County, says that Obama has been too aggressive for many voters in northwest Ohio. “It wasn’t that the voters bought into Obama’s vision,” he explains over chili dogs at Tony Packo’s in Toledo. “They were just sick of Republicans. I went door-to-door [in 2008] and had a number of people tell me they would not vote for a single Republican.” Now, he says, many of the same voters have “buyer’s remorse.” “They tell me: ‘This isn’t the change I voted for.’ ”

It’s not just Lucas County. In Cuyahoga County, which surrounds Cleveland, 12,756 voters switched from Democrat to Republican and just 1,796 went from Republican to Democrat. In Franklin County (Columbus), Republicans added 7,622 from Democrats and lost just 917. In Hamilton County (Cincinnati), 5,713 switched from Democrat to Republican and just 411 from Republican to Democrat.

Kevin DeWine, chairman of the Ohio Republican party, believes that Republicans have picked up  100,000 crossover voters statewide this year, with 1.8 million primary votes cast. Contrast that to 2008, when Democrats picked up 96,000 crossovers with 3.6 million votes cast. (Some of those crossovers can be explained by Rush Limbaugh’s encouraging Republicans to switch parties in 2008 to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary and so prolong her battle with Obama. They likely would’ve switched back this year. But as was the case in Lucas County, unaffiliated and issue-only voters are also trending strongly Republican.)

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