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Will the Buckeye State Swing Back to the GOP in 2010?

Get out your map and draw a big fat bull’s-eye on Ohio. The state looks to be a test of whether the GOP can bounce back strongly after two terrible election cycles, and that makes it a possible bellwether of what’s going on nationally.

Not quite three years ago, a Democratic wave in Ohio swept Republicans out of all but one of the state’s top offices. Then-Rep. Ted Strickland won the governorship, bringing former state Attorney General Lee Fisher along with him as lieutenant governor. Richard Cordray won the state treasurer’s race, Marc Dann was elected attorney general and Jennifer Brunner was elected secretary of state.

The lone Republican elected statewide, by the narrowest of margins, was Mary Taylor. Taylor, 43, won election as state auditor with 51 percent, a margin of fewer than 50,000 votes out of more than 3.8 million cast.

Taylor’s victory was all the more surprising given that her party’s nominee for governor, Ken Blackwell, drew just 37 percent — more than 460,000 fewer votes than Taylor. Then-Sen. Mike DeWine (R) drew just 44 percent in his unsuccessful bid for re-election.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that after controlling the state for years, the Ohio GOP got slaughtered in 2006 and again in 2008. In addition to losing the state’s top offices, the party lost a U.S. Senator, four U.S. House seats and its majority in the Ohio House of Representatives over the past four years.

But timing is everything in politics, and Ohio once again looks like a barnburner in next year’s midterm elections.

Strickland’s opponent in his race for re-election will be former Rep. John Kasich (R), 57, a high-energy populist conservative who will have to defend himself against Democratic attacks that he was a managing director at Lehman Brothers, the financial services firm that declared bankruptcy in 2008 and helped trigger the nation’s financial crisis

Strickland, 68, starts as the favorite in the race, though his job approval numbers aren’t as stratospheric as they once were.

The race is worth watching not only because of the state’s size and reputation as a swing state, but also because Ohio’s governor is one of three statewide officeholders on the state Reapportionment Board, which draws the state legislative districts after the next census. Plus, if Kasich wins, he could have a hand in deciding who carries Ohio in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

Republican Taylor is one of the other members of the Reapportionment Board, and she, too, will have a fight on her hands. To challenge her, state Democrats have recruited Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, 37, a former Cincinnati city councilman.

A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, he is the son of former Procter & Gamble CEO John Pepper. Most observers believe that Taylor, who served in the state Legislature and is a certified public accountant, will begin the race with a slight advantage, but this no slam-dunk for her.

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