By Rick Armon
and Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writers
Ohio voters sent a strong Election Day message to Democrats — No, you can't.
Riding a wave of voter disenchantment over the economy and unemployment, Republicans appear to have swept all the major statewide seats Tuesday, including the highly prized gubernatorial and U.S. Senate positions.
The vote also served notice for the 2012 presidential election since Ohio is considered critical to President Barack Obama's chances for a second term. Obama's campaign slogan two years ago was ''Yes We Can.''
U.S. Rep. John Kasich defeated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Portman handily beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher for the open U.S. Senate seat.
Republicans also took the offices of secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer, and now control both the Ohio House and Senate.
The gubernatorial race was expensive and sometimes nasty.
The contest drew political stars on both sides and a record-breaking $30 million-plus in campaign contributions. Most of the money — and even more from outside groups — was spent on blistering TV ads casting blame for the state's down economy.
Portman, a trade representative and budget director under President George W. Bush, won with 57.8 percent of the vote.
Republicans easily recaptured the majority in the Ohio House that they had lost two years ago. GOP candidates had won or were winning 59 of the 99 seats. Republicans had held only 46.
Republicans also were expected to boost their majority in the state Senate by picking up
an additional two seats for a 23-10 advantage.
Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party, said the message locally, statewide and nationally is clear:
''We do not like the direction the country is going. . . . We reject your idea that government is the answer. We don't believe that,'' he said.
The governor's race was a good case in point, he said, with voters choosing Kasich over Strickland.
''Kasich is a fiscally responsible conservative businessman, and people in Ohio — businesses in particular — are going to feel better because Kasich is going to get regulations out of our way so we can do business,'' Zawistowski said.
Democratic Ohio House Speaker Armond Bundish attributed the House results to the national recession and pressure on families and small businesses.
''While we are disappointed at the outcome, we know there is a tremendous amount of work ahead to continue improving our economy and securing Ohio's economic future,'' he said. ''Republicans and Democrats must put this hard fought campaign behind us and come together to continue addressing the challenges ahead.''
Whether they knew it or not, voters also were helping to redraw legislative and congressional districts with the potential to shift party power for a decade.
The U.S. census triggers reapportionment (the creation of new legislative districts) and redistricting (the establishment of new congressional boundaries) every 10 years.
So with a new census completed, shifts in population must be accounted for so each district ends up with about the same number of voters. Because the rules for drawing district lines are so loose, the party in power can often sway the lines to create favorable voting blocks and affect future elections.
As this year's elections approached, Ohio Democrats hoped to break two decades of Republican dominance of reapportionment and redistricting.
But legislative districts are drawn by a special board made up of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and a legislator from each political party, so whichever party controls the majority of those offices will have the last word.
''As expected, it's a pretty good Republican year,'' said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. ''I think there's a lot of unhappiness with the economy and Washington.''
Ohio's critical role in this election cycle was confirmed when the Democratic National Committee filed its field activity reports throughout the day.
Ohio topped the list of states, with the DNC noting that in the first two hours of Election Day, volunteers had made 246,343 phone calls to targeted voters — ''a blistering 2,052 calls per minute, or 34 calls per second.''
But that didn't seem to help the party, with the sour economy on the minds of many voters across party lines.
''I'm worried about it stagnating and not getting better,'' said Stephen Skavlem, 45, a Cincinnati Republican who works in information technology.
''I blame the Democrats in Washington. I feel they got the keys to the castle, they couldn't reach a consensus and didn't get a lot done,'' Skavlem said.
Outside the Korean Presbyterian Church in a blue-collar Cleveland neighborhood, Charolette Liccardi, 55, a Democrat and homemaker, said Obama's spirited campaigning for Strickland wasn't enough to win her vote.
''I am very displeased with the lack of work for everybody,'' she said. ''My husband is a contractor, commercial electrician, and it's just been ugly for everybody. It seems like there's not going to be an end to it. People are really worried.''
But at another Cleveland precinct where Obama won 408-2 in 2008, Democrats were sticking by the president in the midterm election.
''I think we're doing good things right now. We just need to stop fighting with each other and get with it,'' said Stephan Carney, 40, a Democrat who went back to work last week after landing a sales job.
Dan Metzger, 27, of Cincinnati, an associate pastor at a Methodist church, said he didn't blame anyone for job losses.
''We have a lot of people unemployed and I'd like to see them back at work,'' said Metzger, an independent. He said he voted for the Democrat for governor and the Republican for U.S. Senate.
In the race for attorney general, incumbent Democrat Richard Cordray lost to former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican. Like Kasich, DeWine may have won election with less than 50 percent of the vote due to third-party candidates.
For auditor, Republican David Yost defeated Democrat David Pepper. The seat was open because Republican auditor Mary Taylor was tapped to be Kasich's lieutenant governor. Taylor is from Green.
Facing off for secretary of state, Republican state Sen. Jon Husted defeated Democrat Maryellen O'Shaughnessy. Husted recently served as House Speaker, and handily defeated O'Shaughnessy.
Husted replaces Democrat Jennifer Brunner, who vacated the post to run for U.S. Senate. She lost in the primary.
In the treasurer's race, incumbent Treasurer Kevin Boyce, a Democrat, lost to Republican state Rep. Josh Mandel, who received 55.6 percent of the vote.
Mandel won his bid after what has been an unusually nasty campaign for the seat. The two candidates bickered over each other's gifts and trips taken while in office. They also accused each other of making false statements in campaign materials.
Strickland had appointed Boyce to the post two years ago. He is a former Columbus city councilman and the first black Democrat to hold a statewide nonjudicial office.
Boyce had lagged behind Mandel in fundraising and spending in the race.
Republicans also took the top seat on the high court, again giving the party all seven justice seats.
Justice Maureen O'Connor defeated Chief Justice Eric Brown, a Democrat, for the seat.
O'Connor, from Summit County, has been on the court since 2002, while Brown was appointed chief following the April death of the long-serving Thomas Moyer.
In another Supreme Court race, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, a Republican, defeated Democrat Mary Jane Trapp. Trapp is a former Ohio Court of Appeals judge and the 11th District presiding/administrative judge.
O'Connor's win means she will leave open her current seat, to be filled by governor's appointment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.