If there's a race that exemplifies the extent to which Barack Obama's popularity will determine whether Democrats rise or fall it's the Ohio Senate race.
None of the candidates are well known to voters in the state. 66% don't know enough about Rob Portman to have an opinion and the same holds true for 62% of voters when it comes to Jennifer Brunner and 55% for Lee Fisher.
With the candidates themselves relatively anonymous the numbers at this point are more a reflection of the general political mood in Ohio than anything else, and with Obama's approval in the state at 40% to 53% disapproving it's no surprise that Portman leads both Democrats at this stage. If anything it's a surprise Portman's not up by more.
His advantage is 38-37 over Jennifer Brunner and 41-36 against Lee Fisher. When PPP last looked at this race last June Brunner and Fisher led Portman by 8-9 points. The candidates were all just as anonymous then as they are now, but at that point Obama's approval rating was still over 50% and the downward trend in his numbers goes a long way toward explaining Portman's improved standing.
Portman has a 37-25 lead over both Brunner and Fisher with independents, reflective of national trends.
This is a very close race, and there is a plausible path to victory for the Democratic candidates. First off, if the President's popularity has started to recover by the fall the eventual nominee's prospects will be a whole lot better. Second, Portman's status as a Washington insider could make things hard for him. 65% of voters in the state say they trust Columbus politicians most to deal with Ohio's problems compared to only 11% who trust Washington politicians. Brunner or Fisher will be able to contrast their record in state office with what Portman's done in Washington, and that could prove to be a winning message.
Democrats are having a hard time nationally and Portman would probably win if there was an election today but it's close and a whole lot could change between now and November as the voters become more familiar with the candidates.
Full results here