By Stephanie Warsmith

Beacon Journal staff writer

Mark Weaver, a prominent Republican political consultant, suggests that President Barack Obama develop a list of ways he has made the country better that jibes “with what people think.”

Jerry Austin, a well-known Democratic consultant, thinks presidential candidate Newt Gingrich should travel with a psychiatrist “to try to figure out who he is.”

Weaver and Austin offered these bits of advice to the candidates Thursday during an Akron Press Club luncheon on the political landscape nationally and in Ohio.

The two, who have many years in politics and campaign experience between them, are the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics’ distinguished chairs and are teaching battleground Ohio courses this spring and fall that will follow the presidential race. About 60 people attended the luncheon, which Bliss co-sponsored.

Both Weaver and Austin said the results of the South Carolina primary — in which Gingrich beat Mitt Romney, considered by many the Republican front-runner — ensures that Ohio’s March 6 primary will be in play. Early voting in Ohio starts Tuesday.

The political landscape means Ohio probably will be a key state for both the GOP presidential primary and the general election in November.

“It matters what’s happening in Ohio,” said Weaver, who is an adviser to Romney and will serve as his attorney in Ohio.

He and Austin have different approaches, with Weaver using a PowerPoint presentation and espousing the value of Facebook and Twitter, and Austin relying on his dry wit and admitting to avoiding the use of social media.

Weaver showed statistics he compiled from recent polls from public and private sources that show the majority of Americans (68 percent) think the country is on the wrong track and the issue they care most about (80 percent) is the economy. He said people are evenly divided in their approval/disapproval of the president but overwhelmingly (82 percent) aren’t happy with Congress. He said 58 percent of Americans — and 61 percent of swing voters — think they are worse off than they were three years ago.

In Ohio, Weaver said, voters are nearly evenly split in their approval/disapproval of Obama and whether he deserves re-election. He said about 49 percent of residents say they have the same level of voter enthusiasm, while about 30 percent say they have more. Early matchups between Obama and the GOP presidential candidates show Obama winning in Ohio, though only narrowly over Romney.

Austin predicted the presidential race in Ohio will be won by 3 points because that’s been the spread since 1992.

“As Ohio goes, so goes the nation,” he said, repeating a refrain about the state’s importance.

Austin called the presidential race “the longest running reality show in the U.S.” and said voters can see it in real time, thanks to social media resources, cable television and the Internet.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said.

Austin said the Iowa Republicans were like “sluts who slept with someone every two weeks,” switching back and forth between favoring different GOP candidates. He said the Republican candidates are trying to become “born-again virgins” by asking forgiveness for past transgressions.

The two offered several predictions, including:

•?Weaver said his home state of Pennsylvania, which traditionally has gone for a Democrat, is showing higher disapproval numbers for Obama than Ohio. He said if Obama loses Pennsylvania, “this makes his path to victory more difficult.”

•?Weaver thinks Romney will be the nominee and that there won’t be a significant third-party candidate, though he said he would welcome Ralph Nader or U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich into the race.

•?Austin thinks the group Americans Elect will put up a third-party candidate, and it might be Buddy Roemer, a former Louisiana governor.

•?Austin said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown will beat back a challenge from Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, his leading Republican challenger, unless Obama loses Ohio in a landslide, which he doesn’t think will happen. Weaver, however, predicted an upset in the race, with Mandel benefiting from continued anti-incumbent fervor.

As for the results of the presidential race, Weaver thinks it will “stay close down to the wire” and “Ohio will be in the middle of it.”

“It will be fun,” he said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com.