NEW YORK - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday, calling the New York senator "the strongest candidate our party can bring forth" and contending his state will be crucial in the 2008 election.
Clinton cheerfully agreed: "The road to the White House goes through Ohio."
In 2004, President Bush narrowly beat John Kerry to take Ohio`s 20 electoral votes, and both parties say the state could be a key to victory next year, too. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, and only two Democrats have since 1900.
"In spite of the admiration I have for her and her incredible skill set, I would not be making this endorsement if I didn`t think she was the strongest and best candidate to win the presidency," Strickland told reporters on a conference call. "I don`t think it`s likely a Democrat or Republican candidate will be successful without being successful in Ohio. I understand the importance of Ohio in the equation."
Clinton joined Strickland on the call and said she would be bringing him as her guest today to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa. All the major Democratic presidential contenders will join 9,000 activists at the dinner, just six weeks before Iowa`s leadoff caucuses.
Strickland, a former six-term congressman from Appalachia in southern Ohio, was elected governor in 2006. He has enjoyed popularity throughout the state including the more conservative and rural areas, and his first state budget was supported by nearly every Republican and Democrat in the Legislature.
On Friday, an Ohio Poll from the University of Cincinnati`s Institute of Policy Research found Strickland`s job approval rating is at 69 percent, with only 15 percent of registered voters disapproving of the job he is doing.
Pollsters interviewed 713 registered voters by phone between Oct. 19 and Oct. 31. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.
Seventy-five percent of registered Democrats and 65 percent of registered Republicans surveyed approve of the job Strickland is doing, the poll found. By contrast, only 31 percent of registered voters approve of the job President Bush is doing, according to the survey.
Strickland has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate for the 2008 Democratic ticket, but said Friday he had "no interest at all" in the job.
"I`m not presumptuous enough to think I`d be considered," Strickland said. "I love being governor of Ohio and will do whatever I can in that capacity to help Senator Clinton."
Strickland said Clinton`s focus on "kitchen table" issues would resonate with voters in Ohio and other Midwestern states. "I believe that`s the kind of campaign that will have greatest appeal to Ohioans," he said.
He also praised her resilience in the face of recent criticism from rival Democrats, even as he said he liked and admired all of them.
Kevin DeWine, deputy director of the Ohio Republican Party, called Strickland`s support of Clinton "one of the most underwhelming political endorsements this year."
He accused the pair of being old cronies, who "conspired to force the American public to swallow the poison pill of a massive government-funded health care bureaucracy."
In a statement, DeWine suggested that Strickland should now be asked to answer for significant differences between her public stances and those he espoused on taxes, immigration, and gun rights.
"She`s a very polarizing figure, and at a time when Washington could not be more polarized, I don`t see Ohioans embracing more of the status quo," he said.