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Published: Wednesday, 2/24/2010

Strickland rebounds in poll but Kasich close behind


COLUMBUS — Gov. Ted Strickland's poll numbers have rebounded, but a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday would still have him in an extremely tight “horse race'' with Republican opponent John Kasich.

Forty-four percent said that if the election were held today, they'd prefer to keep Mr. Strickland in the governor's mansion. That compared to the 39 percent who said they'd vote for Mr. Kasich.

Those results are up from a 40-40 tie three months ago.

The poll also showed voters in this critical swing state still disapprove of the job that President Obama is doing.

Fifty-two percent give him a failing grade. The Democratic President's numbers have slipped slightly since November, when he had a 45 percent approval rating and a 50 percent disapproval rating.

Released Tuesday, the poll shows Mr. Strickland has recovered somewhat from weaker numbers seen in the Connecticut university's last poll in November. Forty-eight percent approve of his overall job performance compared to 40 percent who do not, but by a margin of 41 percent to 35 percent they think Mr. Kasich would do better with the economy.

Fifty-three percent of voters give Mr. Strickland a failing grade on that.

“John Kasich remains unknown to most voters,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“The campaign will be a race by the candidates to define Kasich for the 62 percent of voters who don't know enough about him to have an opinion.

“Given that, the race's closeness may say much about Strickland,” he said. “While the governor's horse-race numbers are good, he has a long way to go and what is keeping him ahead is his support among women.”

Almost as if on cue, Mr. Kasich yesterday introduced a video on his campaign Web site to introduce himself to the majority of voters who don't know him.

The poll of 1,662 Ohio voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, so Mr. Strickland's lead is barely outside the margin.

“I don't think a lot about polls at this stage,” Mr. Strickland said. “They don't mean a lot. It's better to be up than down, but I don't put much stock in them.”

When asked about the difference in opinions by voters of his overall performance compared to his economic and budgetary performance, Mr. Strickland said, “The economy's tough. We all know that. I've said it so many times, I'm almost embarrassed to say it to you again. We are in unprecedented circumstances,” the governor said.

But he cited a spate of recent announcements as early indications that the economy is beginning to turn around, including news that General Motors Co. will invest $59 million in its Defiance Powertrain Foundry to make castings for its new fuel-efficient, four-cylinder Ecotec engine.

Mr. Kasich also downplayed the early poll results.

“This is eight and a half months before an election …,” he said. “We've had very good fund-raising. We have an incredible 88-county organization [and] development in all of our policy plans. We're very happy with where we are.''

The poll did not query voters about Green Party candidate Dennis S. Spisak or Libertarian candidate Ken Matesz, who also filed petitions last week for governor.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com,or 614-221-0496.

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