Washington (CNN) - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a battle-tested campaigner hailing from a critical bellwether state, is warning congressional Democrats that they risk blowback in November if they attempt to pass immigration reform and climate change legislation ahead of the midterm vote.
"I think we need to proceed with some awareness of the potential political consequences of the actions that are undertaken here in Washington," Strickland said Thursday in a sit-down with CNN reporters and producers.
The governor, facing a difficult re-election campaign against Republican John Kasich, is in the nation's capital for a series of meetings and fundraisers. Strickland served six terms in the House, representing coal-rich portions of eastern Ohio, before winning the governorship in 2006.
Though he expressed general support for climate legislation and said "it will eventually happen," he questioned whether the Obama administration should make it a priority this year.
"When I say the climate change issue could be a problem, it's the timing and it's the specific nature of the legislation," he said.
Strickland said a climate change bill would need to be crafted in such a way that industrial and coal-heavy states like Ohio do not "suffer disproportionately from changes that are made."
But he also stressed that energy reforms, if enacted properly, have the potential to create jobs, pointing to Ohio's growing solar energy sector as an example.
That argument cuts to what he called the "big, vexing issue" of this election cycle: unemployment. Ohio's jobless rate is 11 percent, up from just over 5 percent from when Strickland took office.
The governor was more ambivalent about immigration reform. The political impact, he said, could "cut both ways." Republicans can expect "a rather dismal future" with Hispanic voters if they stymie reform or tolerate heated anti-immigrant rhetoric, he argued.
But he was skeptical about adding one more hot-button issue to an already-crowded Democratic agenda - especially in an election year.
"It all depends on how it is approached and how it is framed and whether or not the demagogues are successful in convincing the American people that this is a sell-out to the American way of life," he said. "I think the communication about it is going to be hugely important."
Strickland said he is thankful for the big-ticket item that the Democrats already passed: health care reform. He recommended that members of his party embrace the issue on the campaign trail in the coming months.
Democrats will have ample time to "respond and recover" from political wounds suffered during the long and contentious health care fight, he predicted.
"My personal feeling is we would have all been dead in the water if health care had not passed," he said. "There would have been a legitimate perception on the part of people that the Democrats do not know how to govern and get anything done."
Strickland lost his House seat in the 1994 Republican tidal wave, but won it back in 1996. While his job approval rating sits at just under 50 percent, Strickland said he does not see the same kind of frustration among voters he witnessed ahead of that GOP landslide 16 years ago.
"I am not experiencing the anger at this point," he said. "I travel through Ohio all the time. And I am not personally encountering the anger or some of the stuff that was there in '94. So I don't think it's exactly the same kind of thing as '94."