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updated 10/19/2006 4:55:50 PM ET 2006-10-19T20:55:50

This week's reports that the national GOP was trying to skip out on the Ohio Senate race -- and counter-reports that the party is still cramming advertising money into the state -- brought a renewed national focus to the hot-button contest between two-term incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D).

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Just two decades ago, Ohioans put a healthy dose of power in the hands of each major party. But the state has grown into a GOP stronghold: Both its senators are Republicans, and a member of the GOP has occupied the governor's mansion for 16 years. In Ohio's House delegation, Democrats are outnumbered almost two to one; Republicans maintain big margins in both houses of the state Legislature.

But Ohio could be changing, fast. An early whiff of a serious shift came in 2004, when Ohio's battleground-state status was cemented after President Bush pulled out his re-election victory there. But his margins were even narrower than they'd been in 2000 and allegations of vote fraud, although unsubstantiated, lingered long after the final votes were counted.

A new CBS News/New York Timespoll [PDF] shows Ohio's GOP incumbents in trouble, with DeWine floundering 14 points behind Brown among likely voters. And DeWine's support was also considerably softer than Brown's: Forty-five percent of respondents who planned to vote for the incumbent said it was "too early to say for sure" if their minds were made up, while just 34 percent said the same about Brown.

The poll, which dovetailed with the original story about the Republican National Committee's downgrade, also suggested that most Ohioans don't mean for their Senate vote to reflect on Bush. Forty-one percent did connect their choice with the president, however; 31 percent said they thought of their vote as being against Bush -- triple the number who saw their choice as a vote to support him.

The GOP's troubles afflict the open-seat gubernatorial race as well. Democrat Ted Strickland is so far ahead of Republican Ken Blackwell (23 points among CBS/NYT likely voters) that it's barely worth discussing. Sitting Gov. Bob Taft (R) may have helped create a hostile environment for Blackwell; the term-limited governor's disapproval came in at an overwhelming 74 percent in the poll.

Some downballot races are also looking to flip. Ohio voters are at the epicenter of the ethics scandal involving Bob Ney, a six-term Republican congressman now facing jail time after pleading guilty to accepting bribes. Ney's ethics scandal is arguably impacting House GOP candidates around the country, but it will clearly have a marked impact on 18th District voters. (For a microcosm within a microcosm, the latest polls in Ney's old stomping grounds show Democrat Zack Space comfortably ahead of the GOP candidate, Joy Padgett. In 2004, Ney crushed his Democratic challenger by 28 points.)

As for the overall picture, a slim majority of respondents deemed political corruption widespread in Ohio, and the GOP is taking the most heat. When asked which political party in the state has dirtier politicians, a 43-percent plurality chose the Republicans -- almost four times the 12 percent who chose the Democrats. Even the GOP faithful aren't looking so faithful any more: Almost double the number of self-identified Republicans said their own party has more rotten apples than their opponents.

Gwen Glazer is managing editor at nationaljournal.com

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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