[UPDATE: 7:27 pm -- Ohio Valley Politics has Strickland's e-mail this evening that urges his supporters to volunteer for Hillary. Ohio's governor has stepped up to the plate, no doubt tapping his list of supporters from 2006, a goldmine in the coming struggle.]
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Outside of the two presidential candidates, arguably the nation's most important Democrat after Super Tuesday is Ohio's 66-year-old governor, who now has the task of delivering his swing state's pivotal primary to his longtime pal, Hillary Clinton. He also is going to be paying back a favor: Bill Clinton reportedly raised about $225,000 for Strickland's run for governor. The governor also needs a victory to avoid eating his own words. Three months ago, he said "Hillary has what it takes to win Ohio."
Hillary also has said the "road to the White House goes through Ohio," but she was probably thinking November 2008, not March.
Strickland delivers his second State of the State address Wednesday. But his words are likely be subsumed in the gusts whipped up by Barack Obama and Clinton, both storming toward the Buckeye State with a full-force nomination fight. And Strickland won't be able to run for shelter -- he endorsed Hillary in early November. At the time, nearly everybody thought the Democratic contest would be over, she'd be the winner, and that Ohio's March 4 primary would be a mere sidelight in national politics.
Now, Ohio could be for all the marbles, or at least a huge sackful. Clinton must rely on Strickland's homestate clout -- he's one of the nation's most popular governors -- to hold Obama back. Indeed, he probably has become her best hope. The governor has campaigned for her in Iowa and South Carolina -- tuneups for the job at hand. Soon, he'll be turning up all over his own state singing her praises. He's not shy about supporting Hillary. When he endorsed her last November, he said:
"She is the strongest candidate that our party can put forth, and she is the candidate who can win the presidency."
"These serious times call for a leader with Hillary Clinton's strength and experience. Hillary has what it takes to win Ohio and take back the White House in 2008. Her commitment to rebuilding the middle class and expanding opportunity for all Americans is exactly what this country needs."
Clinton and Strickland are going to be spending time in Ohio's urban counties. But insiders say they'll also be visiting plenty of small communites like Coshocton and Portsmouth, places where Strickland's support runs deep. Those rural and semi-rural Democrats could be the key for Hillary, who seems to be losing support among African Americans, who represent some 15% of the Democrat vote in Ohio. It is no secret that the governor -- who served in Congress representing a rural district and grew up in Scioto County in Appalachia -- has a strong base and emotional ties in rural and smalltown Ohio, where about 15% of the state's 11 million residents live.