As the 2012 presidential campaign gets under way in earnest, Ohio again assumes its customary role as a scrappy bellwether state. Our makeup mirrors the country at large, from demographics to work force, from education to health care.
Being a microcosm of America gives us clout as a key arbiter of who wins the presidency. Candidates who covet the White House have to pass muster with a majority of Ohioans or pretty much shelve their lofty ambitions.
They know the history. No Republican ever has won the White House without winning Ohio. The last Democrat to pull that off was John F. Kennedy. Wise politicians pay close attention to Ohio polls and pander appropriately.
But Buckeye voters, who have been around the bend multiple times, are not easily bamboozled by slick operators with stale campaign slogans. Tough times have made us impatient with empty talk.
The partisan fighting and bickering that have monopolized policy making has left us fatigued. Washington politicians are oblivious to the real world.
We're twisted in knots, trying to find or keep jobs. They act like a houseful of screaming kids who need a time out.
It's too bad there isn't a requirement that only grown-ups can run for elected office. It's too bad we don't have better choices to consider at the polls.
The 2012 presidential race is notable for its leadership vacuum. It's safe to say that few people in Ohio and elsewhere are deliriously happy with who's running.
According to recent surveys, President Obama polls slightly higher in Ohio than Republican hopefuls. But that's only because people like the other options even less than Mr. Obama.
An August poll, taken in Ohio by Public Policy Polling, shows the President with an unimpressive 45 percent to 43 percent lead over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And that was a two-point drop from May.
In the same poll, Mr. Obama beat Texas Gov. Rick Perry by just four points, 45 percent to 41 percent. The margin widens by a few points over the remaining contenders.
Certainly the numbers don't suggest a resounding vote of support for the Great Capitulator. Even though Ohioans prefer the President to the GOP field of presidential wannabes, his job approval ratings have slipped underwater in the state.
In the Public Policy poll, 44 percent of the people who were surveyed said they approved of the President's performance, while 52 percent disapproved. A July Quinnipiac University poll in Ohio showed Mr. Obama with a disapproval rating of 50 percent against 46 percent approval.
The President's Achilles heel is the economic climate. Pollsters say voters, after mostly blaming the former Bush administration for the lousy economy, have decided Mr. Obama bears some responsibility for their frustration.
In the Quinnipiac poll, 58 percent of Ohio's voters disapproved of the President's handling of the economy. It doesn't help that job growth is stagnant and state unemployment is up to 9.1 percent.
Should things improve, even modestly, the President could win a second term. It's iffy. Polls show he's ahead in Ohio, but his lead is tenuous and directly related to the weakness of would-be challengers.
The GOP prospects for president run from extreme to kooky. The also-rans, such as ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, are just in it for a platform.
Moderates don't stand a chance in Republican primaries hijacked by the Tea Party. So we're left with a flip-flopper vying for front-runner status with an evangelical secessionist.
That's all the GOP has to counter a disappointing incumbent Democrat. It is little wonder that core conservatives are blue, liberals are seeing red, and voters are weary.
The worthless partisan feuding that increasingly passes for representative government has done nothing to advance progress, alleviate crises, or help desperate survive a punishing recession.
The perception in the heartland is that nobody in power is looking out for the powerless. Nobody who could throw a lifeline to people who are limping by on depleted incomes -- or none at all -- is in a hurry to do anything.
The lack of urgency among public servants to address the people's business has soured citizens on the elected elite. Without doubt, the high-profile parade of politicians who will come to Ohio over the next 14 months will encounter a skeptical audience.
For presidential campaigners, the battleground test for public trust will be exceedingly difficult to pass. But whoever earns that confidence with a fair, pragmatic way forward can put this state in his or her win column, and the White House in his or her future.
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact her at: email@example.com