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Strickland offers support to Obama

COLUMBUS — Gov. Ted Strickland said Friday there are two keys for Barack Obama to win over rural Ohio voters: the economy and tying John McCain to President Bush.

Strickland knows a thing or two about how a Democrat can win over rural, working-class Ohio voters, having ridden their support to the governor’s office in 2006. Based on the results of the state’s March 4 primary, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama has a lot to learn.

The effectiveness of this new partnership between teacher and student, governor and presidential candidate, could prove vital to the Democrats’ hope of winning back the White House in November. Ohio is one of a few large battleground states where polls show a tight race between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

McCain is already embarking on an effort to win over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s former supporters. Clinton won 83 of 88 Ohio counties in the primary against Obama, and won Strickland’s former congressional district by a margin of 70-37.

The Obama-Strickland partnership is a reflection of circumstance rather than choice, as Strickland campaigned vigorously for Clinton leading up to the primary. Because of Ohio’s importance on the electoral map, many have speculated whether the partnership could lead to the vice presidency. But Strickland again said Friday in an interview he had no interest in being on the ticket.

He did say that he would do what the campaign asked him to do in terms of lending his help in Ohio.

He said a targeted economic message focusing on the high cost of gasoline, and McCain’s connections to President Bush, would enable Obama to overcome the misgivings of Clinton supporters.

‘‘I think what Sen. Obama needs to do is go into some of the smaller towns and rural areas and talk about the economy and talk about his commitment to reverse course and start rebuilding this country and get our fiscal house in order, and focus on the things that matter,’’ Strickland said. ‘‘This constituency is disproportionately suffering from what’s happening in the economy.’’

McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay said Strickland’s comments show he has concerns over Obama’s ability to win the state.

‘‘It’s clear that Ted Strickland realizes the uphill battle Barack Obama faces among voters in Ohio who are turned off by his flawed agenda and weak judgment,’’ Lindsay said. ‘‘Obama’s positions are out of touch with voters in the state.’’

Strickland said he has already given the Obama campaign advice on how to reach out to Ohio’s rural voters.