Politics & Government

Obama visits Cincy on Monday

CINCINNATI — President Barack Obama will be in the region for the holiday, speaking at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic at Cincinnati's Coney Island.

The speech comes as Obama's efforts to overhaul health care are under fire, and he plans to address Congress on the subject Wednesday.

Although Obama seldom visited Kentucky during last year's election campaign, he made many stops in Ohio, a key swing state he won in the November election.

Obama lost Kentucky by a wide margin, winning only Lexington, Louisville and a handful of other counties.

In Ohio on Monday, Obama will find that his approval ratings are down, along with those of Ohio's Democratic governor. Meanwhile, Ohio Republicans, who were on the run after the election, have regrouped.

"The state economy is still very weak," said Herb Weisberg, an Ohio State University political scientist. "I think more people are getting more concerned about the state policies and the federal policies."

Former congressman Ted Strickland, who in 2006 handily won election as Ohio's first Democratic governor in 16 years, has seen his approval ratings tumble with voters restless about the economy and state budget.

And Quinnipiac University reported in July that Obama's approval rating in Ohio had fallen below 50 percent.

Unemployment in Ohio and Kentucky continues to climb at higher rates than the nation's, topping 11 percent. The two states have been hit hard by the decline in U.S. automaking and other manufacturing.

Obama's speech to the annual picnic includes appearances by national union leaders John Sweeney (AFL-CIO president) and Richard Trumka (secretary-treasurer). Obama is expected to speak about 1:15 p.m.

Opposition to Obama was evident Saturday at a Cincinnati Tea Party rally in suburban West Chester, where some in the thousands-strong crowd protesting government spending held such signs as "Government-run health care makes me sick" and "Leave our health care alone."

"People are really worried," said Rob Portman, a former GOP congressman and White House budget chief, who is running for U.S. Senate. "I think you see that in the number of people showing up at gatherings like this."

Portman had been critical of his party last year, saying it needed to refocus on fiscally conservative principles.

"It's a whole lot better," Portman said of the Republican outlook. "I think President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have helped us find our voice and regain our footing."

Portman and former congressman John Kasich, who is running for governor, head what's shaping up as a 2010 Republican ticket loaded with past electoral winners as the party tries to rebound after two straight strong Democratic elections in the state.

"The Republican Party was certainly at the low ebb last November," said Bob Bennett, who stepped aside this year after two decades as the state's GOP chairman. "I think it's changed completely from a political standpoint since then."