But the forceful budget action taken last year by Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, including severe spending cuts and moves to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees, have left them deeply unpopular as the economy has improved.
This may make it more difficult for the GOP to win these states than it appeared just a few months ago, as polls find growing numbers of Americans who believe the economy has begun to recover.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faces a recall election in the coming months, just over a year after his move to curtail collective bargaining rights for most public employees in the state brought him national attention, as well as huge protests.
In Florida, opinion polls found Gov. Rick Scott to be the least popular governor in the country, after he initiated deep cuts in state education aid last year.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is struggling with one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the country after voters in November overturned a law he supported to end collective bargaining rights for that state’s public employees.
In addition to cutting bargaining rights for government workers, Kasich, supported deep reductions in state aid to local school districts, while pushing a series of tax cuts that provided the largest benefits to Ohio’s wealthiest taxpayers.
Like the other Republican governors, Kasich said his moves were necessary to repair the state’s finances. Kasich boasts that he closed the state’s yawning budget gap without raising taxes. But with the state’s economy now improving, voters have grown impatient with austerity, and his approval rating now stands at 40 percent
“Kasich has badly damaged the Republican brand in Ohio,” said Dale Butland, communications director of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank based in Columbus.
The economic rebound also poses a political problem for GOP presidential candidates, who are staking much of their case against President Obama on what they call his mishandling of the economy.
Kasich has mostly remained on the sidelines as GOP presidential candidates have come through Ohio in advance of its March 6 primary, which will be one of the closest watched Super Tuesday contests.
Although overall, state tax revenues remain below pre-recession levels, there has been a marked economic improvement in the nation’s Midwestern manufacturing belt, where jobless rates are typically below the national average.
In Ohio, the unemployment rate in December, the latest month for which statewide statistics are available, was 8.1 percent, well below the national rate of 8.5 percent for that month. In some areas of the state, unemployment is moving toward pre-recession levels.