More Ohioans plan to vote for Republicans in the election, and they are excited to do so. But a lot can happen before Nov. 2.
Republican candidates have grabbed double-digit leads in the races for governor and the U.S. Senate, and the swelling red tide could lead to a GOP sweep of statewide offices, the first Dispatch Poll of the 2010 campaign shows.
With voter enthusiasm running nearly three times higher among Republicans than Democrats, GOP gubernatorial candidate John Kasich leads by 12 points over Gov. Ted Strickland while GOP Senate hopeful Rob Portman tops Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher by 13 points.
"I am enthusiastic about the upcoming election because it will kick out many of the incumbents," said survey participant Aivars Vimba, 70, a retired technician from suburban Cincinnati and a Republican. "My wife, who hasn't voted in years, will vote this time."
At the other end of the state, Edward Obloy, a 62-year-old lawyer and management consultant from Toledo, said, "This is probably the single most important election in my lifetime. If the country delivers control to the Democrats again, no governor on (President Barack) Obama's accelerator will be in place and as a consequence we'll be unable to reverse course before he leaves office."
Strickland's camp conceded weeks ago that he would probably lose if Ohio still had only limited early voting. But with any eligible voter now able to get an absentee ballot, Democrats have more than 30 days starting late this month to get their less-than-enthused base out.
Early voting could be enhanced in Democrat-rich large counties because local officials mailed applications for absentee ballots to all voters and are paying the return postage, a factor that brought a GOP federal lawsuit last week.
In theory, the political dynamics also could be transformed by the two debates between Kasich and Strickland - the first is next week - and the three matchups between Portman and Fisher.
Republican candidates lead for all down-ticket statewide offices on the Nov.2 ballot: former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine for attorney general, Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost for auditor, state Sen. Jon Husted for secretary of state, state Rep. Josh Mandel for treasurer, Justice Maureen O'Connor for chief justice and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger for re-election.
The mail survey of 1,622 randomly chosen registered Ohio voters from Aug. 25 through Friday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
Thus when the error margin and undecided voters are taken into account, the only race that currently appears out of reach for the Democrats is chief justice, where O'Connor has a huge lead over current Chief Justice Eric Brown, appointed by Strickland last spring. No minor-party candidate got more than 6 points for any office.
Of course, polls taken before Labor Day, particularly for lower-profile races, can change dramatically, especially once TV ads hit the airwaves. That might auger well for such big-bankroll candidates as Husted and Democrat David Pepper in the auditor's race.
Because the campaigns for everything except governor and U.S. Senate likely have been all-but-invisible to most Ohio voters, it's presumably the Republican label that is carrying the day for now.
The supporters of every statewide GOP candidate are two to three times as likely as those who are backing the Democratic candidate to say they are more enthused than usual for this year's election.
However, that Republican advantage all but disappears in the matchup for justice and actually is reversed for chief justice; judicial candidates don't carry a party designation on the general election ballot.
The party label is key to respondent David Murray, 54, a telecommunication technician and union member from Dayton, who is voting a straight Republican ticket.
"Regretfully, this current crop of Democrats has repeatedly proven themselves, almost without exception, untrustworthy of the power associated with their offices," he said.
If Republicans end up winning all the statewide contests, it would match the GOP "three-peat sweep" of 1994, 1998 and 2002 and return Ohio to the all-Republican rule that the state experienced from 1995 through 2006. Just four years ago, Democrats won every statewide nonjudicial race except auditor.
Such an outcome also would give the GOP control again of the state Apportionment Board, which redraws legislative districts, and thus an upper hand in General Assembly races for the next decade.
If Ohioans' sentiments favoring Republicans extend to legislative and congressional races, that could mean the GOP will retake control of the Ohio House and vulnerable first-term Democratic members of Congress such as Mary Jo Kilroy of Columbus will be knocked out of office.
Strickland won by more than 20 points over Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell four years ago, but less than two-thirds of those who say they voted for the Democrat in 2006 are backing him now.
"(Former Gov. Bob) Taft was a disaster, and I wasn't happy with the way things were going under the Republicans so I voted Democratic rather than for Strickland," said one of those switching sides, Ralph Holter, 68, a retired sales representative from suburban Cleveland.
"I'm not thrilled with him either. I liked what I heard about Kasich when he was in Congress."
Strickland is certainly not without defenders.
"I chose Gov. Strickland because he has not had enough time to accomplish his goals because the national economy has been in the tank for so long. I like his plans and hope he gets four more years to implement them," said Frank Ottena, 80, a retiree from North Canton.
John McMaken, 51, a pharmacist from Mason, said, "I would be considered a Republican but am going to vote for Strickland because he has done a good, nonpartisan job, especially considering the economic climate."
But McMaken returns to his GOP roots for the Senate race because he lives in Portman's former congressional district and "he did a good job."
Dennis Stieber, 50, a deputy auditor from Norwalk, is voting for Fisher, who also was the state's development director.
"Lee Fisher was a true fighter for us here in Norwalk when our Norwalk Furniture plant closed. He came here personally to broker a deal with other investors to help keep the company in some type of solvency with new management. He kept jobs here."