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Few would have predicted after the Tea Party brought the GOP to power across Ohio in the fall of 2010 that the state would be fertile territory for a Democratic comeback in the 2012 elections. But a combination of overreach by Republican Governor John Kasich and an improving economy have quickly remade the political landscape.

Public Policy Polling’s latest numbers show what multiple surveys have been hinting at for months now — the successful campaign to overturn Kasich-backed Senate Bill 5, which would have killed most collective bargaining rights for public employees, has energized the progressive community and put Republicans on the defensive in this key swing state. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney 49-42, which would represent the biggest blowout in the state in decades. Likewise, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown doesn’t sport great approval numbers, but is nonetheless poised to clean up against his opponent, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, whom he leads 47-36.

“We’ve now found Barack Obama with a solid lead in Ohio on our last two polls,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “Obama’s benefiting from the weakness of the Republican candidate field, but his own numbers are on the rise as well.”

The economy is also improving faster in the Rust Belt than the rest of the country:

National Oilwell Varco, the largest U.S. maker of oilfield equipment, is hiring workers in Ohio and Pennsylvania and opening operations that distribute tools and service equipment to companies extracting oil from shale deposits, Williams said in an interview. The company has beaten the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, about 135 percent to 43 percent, since July 1, 2009.

Improvement in unemployment, which dropped 19 percent in Ohio and 29 percent in Michigan from April 2009 through the end of last year, is a key driver for the Midwest recovery, said Jason Novak, senior economic analyst for the Philadelphia Fed.

While Ohio’s diminishing electoral votes (its population is shrinking, giving it fewer seats in Congress) render it less decisive than four or eight years ago, no Republican has ever won the White House without it. If Obama performs this strongly in the Rust Belt, it’s hard to see a path to victory for his GOP opponent.

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