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Ohio Blowout Raises Red Flag for Democrats

Pepper entered the race before incumbent Auditor Mary Taylor (R) was selected by Kasich to join his ticket as his running mate, and the Democrat was regarded as an extremely strong challenger for Taylor. In the end, Pepper couldn’t even win an open seat.

By sweeping the statewide offices and the Legislature, Republicans have assured themselves the right to draw the state’s new state legislative and Congressional lines. Moreover, the party credentialed at least three future candidates for statewide higher office: Husted, Mandel and soon-to-be Lt. Gov. Taylor.

Five Ohio Democratic Members were fired earlier this month: Steve Driehaus (1st district), Charlie Wilson (6th district), Mary Jo Kilroy (15th district), John Boccieri (16th district) and Zack Space (18th district). That left the party controlling just five Congressional districts stretching in a narrow geographic band from Toledo in the west through Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and to Youngstown in the east.

This year’s results have to concern both Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and Democratic strategists in and around the White House.

Brown won his Senate seat in 2006 in a favorable environment for Democrats, and the new political reality in the state and nationally puts the freshman Democrat at considerable risk in 2012, when he will be running with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.

Of course, Republicans will need to come up with a formidable challenger, but any suggestion that Ohio has been becoming “bluer” seems to have been swept away by the Republicans’ midterm tsunami.

For Obama, Ohio remains an important state, though it’s probably more crucial for the eventual Republican presidential nominee. 

Obama carried the state by almost 260,000 votes (51.5 percent to 46.9 percent) two years ago, reversing President George W. Bush’s two-point victory over Sen. John Kerry in 2004. The midterm results reflect the effect of a severe jobs recession in the state, a development that could well hurt Obama’s prospects in Ohio in 2012 if things don’t improve.

This year’s GOP victory surely overstated the party’s strength in the state, much as recent Democratic victories in Ohio exaggerated that party’s standing. The difference, of course, is that the timing of the Republican landslide was more fortuitous for the party, since reapportionment and redistricting can have long-term consequences.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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