Ted Strickland's approval rating is down to 43% and he leads John Kasich just 44-42 in a hypothetical 2010 contest.
A January PPP poll found 48% of Ohio voters approving of Strickland's performance with 35% disapproving. The spread is now 43/42. That survey also found him with a six point lead over Kasich, 45-39.
Strickland has seen a decline in popularity among both Democrats and Republicans. Where previously 70% of voters within his party gave him good marks, now just 62% do. And the percentage of Republicans disapproving of him has increased from 59% to 72%. His numbers with independents are relatively steady.
Kasich is relatively unknown to the state's voters. 39% have no opinion of him- among those who do, perceptions of him are nearly evenly split with 31% holding a positive view of him and 30% an unfavorable one. Given Kasich's relative lack of popularity the closeness of this race seems more a referendum on Strickland than anything having to do with his opponent.
One significant problem- with a beam of light at the end of the tunnel- for Strickland is that he has some work to do shoring up his support with black voters in Ohio. In both this poll and our January poll he received just 52% of the African American vote against Kasich. It's not that we got a conservative sample of black voters- approval numbers on Barack Obama from this same poll that will be released later in the week show the President with an 89% approval rating among them. The good news is that Democratic candidates often under poll with African Americans, especially this far out from an election, but almost always end up earning upwards of 80% of their vote. These numbers may be a wakeup call that Strickland has some work to do there, but those voters probably aren't gone for good.
Another good piece of news for Strickland is that he is running even with Kasich among whites in the poll, and any Democrat who can split the white vote in Ohio is going to win statewide.
Nevertheless this race does look closer than has been the conventional wisdom, and it will draw a lot of national attention next year as a bellwether contest if it really ends up being this competitive.
Full results here