Polling the Ohio Pols

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Barack Obama and John McCain may be sparring over several different issues—Iran, Iraq, health care, immigration—in their fight for the White House, but, at least in swing states Ohio and Florida, one issue trumps them all: the economy.

An NPR poll conducted with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard’s School of Public Health shows (.pdf) more than 50 percent of respondents in both states say their pocketbooks will be the most important issue guiding their votes in November. When pollsters combined respondents’ first and second most pressing concerns, the economy showed up 70 percent of the time.

This could bode well for Obama and his fellow party members, especially in Ohio, where some counties face unemployment rates of more than eight percent. “It does help the Democrats,” says Johnnie Maier, chairman of the Democratic party in Stark County, Ohio, which historically has acted as bellwether county in presidential elections. “When George W. Bush took office, we had a budget surplus. We didn’t have a housing crisis. Now we’re replacing what used to be living-wage jobs with part-time jobs at places like Wal-Mart—a major Chinese importer. It’s beyond a mess.”

The Democrats in Columbus second that sentiment. “There isn’t a stunt, a gimmick or an attack ad in the book that can save John McCain and the Republicans if Ohio voters walk into the voting booth thinking about their jobs, their mortgages, their gas tanks or their grocery bills,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Alex Goepfert wrote in an email.

But, as Ohio GOP spokesman John McClelland told me, “John Kerry made the economy his central issue in Ohio four years ago, and he lost. Ohio’s economy will not be revived by raising taxes on small businesses and taxing energy, and that’s exactly what Barack Obama plans to do.”

The Florida Republican Party also downplayed the notion the economy will help the Democrats there. “It doesn’t necessarily help them,” says Katie Gordon, a spokeswoman. “I can’t speak for Senator McCain, but we’ve supported tax cuts and we’re taking on the insurance industry to lower property insurance rates. When voters go to the polls, they’re going to remember that. And I think they’ll remember Senator McCain has advocated that same type of platform—lower taxes and lower spending—that hit them right in their pocketbooks.”

For more on what Florida’s thinking, watch this video from Miami’s recent Live From Main Street town hall:

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