COLUMBUS — The lead enjoyed by Republican John Kasich over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has been nearly halved in less than three weeks, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday.
The incumbent trails 50-41 with Mr. Strickland picking up four points and Mr. Kasich losing four since the last poll by Connecticut's Quinnipiac University was finished on the day of the first gubernatorial debate on Sept. 14.
The second and last debate will take place Thursday night in Toledo.
Mr. Kasich's lead is still outside the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The poll of 1,025 likely voters showed that Mr. Strickland has gained strength with his previously hesitant Democratic base. Independents, however, put Mr. Kasich over the top. He picks up 62 percent of that vote to Mr. Strickland's 29 percent.
"If Gov. Strickland is to mount a comeback, he needs to make a major dent in Kasich's commanding lead among independent voters, who often make the difference in close elections in Ohio," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Not only does Strickland have to take all the undecided voters, he needs to peel away some of the soft Kasich voters as well if he is to win."
Last month's Quinnipiac Poll had given Mr. Kasich a 17-point lead among likely voters going into the Sept. 14 debate, prompting the Strickland campaign to label it a fluke. Soon after, a number of competing polls showed a much tighter race.
Despite Mr. Strickland's reliance on President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to bring out the party faithful, Mr. Brown said the poll shows they're not helping the governor's cause. Just 14 percent of those polled overall, and 6 percent of the crucial independents, said the visits make them more likely to vote for Mr. Strickland.
Mr. Biden campaigned for Mr. Strickland in Youngstown on Monday while Mr. Obama is expected back in Columbus for a rally in less than two weeks as they seek to energize Democrats for the Nov. 2 election.
Early absentee voting began in Ohio on Sept. 28.
"Four weeks is a lifetime in political campaigns, but the governor needs to seize the momentum soon if he is to win a second term,'' Mr. Brown said.
The Blade will host a live Web chat during and after Thursday's gubernatorial debate here at toledoblade.com.