ZANESVILLE, Ohio — If this election is about the economy, stupid, then it takes a genius to understand what's happening in Ohio.
And that's rarely more been more apparent than at Zanesville High School Saturday, where Rep. Paul Ryan and Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared at times to be making opposite arguments.
Ohio's economy is performing better than the nation's, but the Republican ticket arguing that things are worse off under President Barack Obama. With just 10 days until election day, voters here have a lot to sort out. In the Buckeye State the unemployment rate has been at a steady decline — down to 7 percent in September, the lowest point since that same time in 2008 and below the nationwide rate of 7.8 percent. Manufacturing jobs are up from where they were at the depths of the recession, and the Republican governor is preparing for his reelection bid in two years by traveling around the state praising a recovery.
"Well you know the situation here in our state — we're doing better," Kasich declared to several hundred Romney-Ryan supporters in the mostly-full high school gym. "I hope you all agree we're doing better. And we went from a loss of 400k jobs over the last four years and we're up 112k now. And we went from a billion dollars in the whole to a balanced budget and a half-of-a-billion dollar surplus."
Better yet, Kasich said, "We are now the #4 job creator in the United States and #1 in the Midwest."
But instead of celebrating the recovery like Kasich, it falls on the Republican nominees to convince people that they're not doing as well as they think — or at best that the nation as a whole isn't doing as well as Ohio.
"We have serious problems in this country," Ryan somberly told a crowd that the campaign put at 500.
(Kasich always mentions that headwinds from Washington are keeping the state from bouncing back even faster, a nuance the Romney-Ryan campaign doesn't provide.)
Saying that Obama can't run on his record, Ryan listed off the things wrong with the economy.
"We have 23 million people struggling for work," he said. "We've got factories that are closed. We've lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs just since he took office — 38,000 just in the last few months. We're going in the wrong direction."
But in Ohio, the percentage of people believing the country is off track has steadily declined — down nine points since June — while the percentage of those believing things are getting better is up 10 points, according to a new Purple Strategies poll.
Romney aides have long conceded that their message is "complicated" and "a mouthful" in this swing state. And 10 days out, they still haven't found a message that is consistent with Kasich's — or with how many Ohioans feel — and that may cost them on November 6.