Columbus, Ohio (CNN) - "Angry" was the operative word Tuesday as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland rolled through his state on a bus tour timed to coincide with the first day of early voting here.
As a pair of new polls showed the race for governor in the Buckeye State tightening and now essentially tied, the Democratic governor is seizing on the fresh momentum and positioning himself as a fighter who's just as upset with the state of the economy as voters appear to be.
The sense of economic frustration sweeping the country has largely energized the Republican base and sent independents into the GOP fold, but Strickland is making an ambitious play for those very same voters.
"Ohioans are angry and I'm angry too," he tells voters in a new television ad running statewide. "Wall Street got their recovery. And executives who outsourced our jobs, they jot their bonuses. But we're putting a stop to that right here in Ohio."
At a union hall in Cleveland Tuesday, at a student center at the University of Akron and at a rally on the state house steps in Columbus, the usually mild-mannered former minister unleashed a torrent of attacks against his Republican challenger, John Kasich, and the Bush administration, pointedly blaming them for bringing the country to the brink of a great depression.
"I am angry because the Republicans under George Bush brought this economy to the brink of total collapse, and the people who carried out those shenanigans on Wall Street, people like John Kasich absolutely just about caused us to go to the depths of economic destruction," he roared in Cleveland, bringing nearly 200 union members to their feet.
Strickland repeatedly mentioned Kasich's ties to Lehman Brothers - where he worked as a managing director for nine years - at one point making the claim that his opponent will bring "Wall Street thinking and Wall Street behavior" to the governor's office.
"And we're going to say hell no!," Strickland thundered, banging his fist against the podium. "No we're not going bring that into the governor's mansion. Hell no you won't! We're going to fight this guy."
The pugilistic mentality should come easy to the governor: as a top surrogate for Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008, it was Strickland who suggested she re-imagine herself as a fighter for the middle class.
Clinton adopted the message and went on to win the Ohio primary, a moment when she finally seemed to find her footing in her ultimately unsuccessful bid for the presidency.
"The candidate that is most capable of communicating to the voter what the voter feels is the candidate that is most likely to win an election," Strickland theorized in an interview with CNN aboard his campaign bus. "The voter wants to feel as if the candidate understands them and their feelings and their anxieties. If a candidate can accurately communicate to voters what they are feeling in their own lives and experiences, I think that voter says, 'That guys gets it. That guy knows me.'"
Strickland said his anger "grows out of the recognition that decisions were made by the Bush administration and later by Wall Street that brought this economy to verge of total collapse. I am angry about that."
Just weeks after multiple polls showed Strickland falling badly behind his opponent, new surveys out Tuesday showed him essentially tied with Kasich - numbers that had Strickland staffers cheering and making frenzied phone calls as the campaign bus drove from Akron to Columbus.
A CBS News/New York Times poll out Tuesday showed Kasich leading Strickland by just one point, a 43-42 margin, among likely voters. A Reuters/Ipsos poll also released Tuesday had Kasich winning 47 percent to Strickland's 46 percent.
Kasich's shrinking lead may be one reason why his campaign launched a negative ad Tuesday calling Strickland's record on jobs "an absolute failure" and pointing to the nearly 400,000 jobs lost in Ohio since the Democrat took office in 2007.
"Why wasn't Ted Strickland angry when 390,000 of his fellow Ohioans lost their jobs?," Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told CNN. "It's pretty selfish of him to only get angry when he's about to lose his own job."
Strickland, though, seems happy to talk about the recession because it gives him an opening to remind voters about who he says brought about the economic collapse in the first place – Republicans and Wall Street.
And unlike other embattled Democrats, Strickland has not put any distance between himself and President Obama, seeking instead to highlight efforts Democrats have made to save the economy from GOP mismanagement.
Strickland deemed Ohio a "firewall" for President Obama's re-election hopes, and in Akron, he couldn't resist going on offense against several of the Republicans who might challenge the president in 2012.
"We are coming after you, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty and all of the right-wing extremists," he said, somehow managing to energize a mostly empty room in the University of Akron student union. "We are coming after you in 2012, and we will re-elect Barack Obama to be a second-term president of the United States of America."