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Published: Saturday, 9/1/2012

COMMENTARY

To politicians who court Ohio: Quit taking us for granted

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Politcking is supposed to begin in earnest after Labor Day. The holiday weekend is the unofficial kickoff for fall campaigns.

It's when conventional wisdom says people are ready to start paying attention to what politicians have been saying for months. But if you live in Ohio, you're forced to face the music a lot sooner than everybody else.

It's a curse. An ideal blend of demographics makes our bellwether state a crucial part of every election puzzle, particularly presidential campaigns.

So every four years, ardent political suitors with big ambitions come courting. They smother Ohioans with crazy, whirlwind romances.

But the sweet talkers love us and leave us as soon as the polls close. After all the wooing, they're gone. We feel used.

The warm smiles, eager handshakes, strident speeches, and nice and nasty commercials made just for us were cruel calculations. All Ohio really means to those who are passionate about winning the presidency is 18 electoral votes.

Political interlopers care only about the power of this battleground state to swing the outcome in a tight race. The rest of the time, we're nothing to them.

We're hayseeds who live in what sophisticates call flyover country as they jet from the West and East coasts. Snobs.

Who needs 'em? They're flighty and cerebral. We're gritty and grounded.

We're also a virtual microcosm of the nation, a mix of rural, urban, suburban, young, old, rich, and poor.

Unlike some states, such as California and New York, you can't pigeonhole Ohio politics. We lean left, right, and middle.

We're notoriously fickle and unpredictable. We're also the ultimate prize for any presidential candidate.

Ohio is ground zero for Republicans. No candidate from the party of Lincoln, including the 16th president himself, won the top job without carrying Ohio.

Only twice since 1904 has the state chosen losing presidential candidates. Other than supporting Republicans Thomas Dewey in 1944 and Richard Nixon in 1960, Ohio has been right on the money in picking presidential winners.

Smart White House candidates begin courting Ohio voters early and often. Before the first primary election is held and campaign offices dot the state, presidential hopefuls are busy booking flights to the Buckeye State.

The full-time flirts promise us the sun and the moon -- along with secure retirements, cost-effective health care, gainful employment, high-quality public schools, affordable college, economic revival, and an energy policy.

They keep turning up in campaign mode wherever we eat, work, and play. They stalk Ohio voters. No place, from the neighborhood diner to the community college, is safe. Relentlessly, they urge us to reject all rivals.

The others will break your hearts and rob you blind, the partisan paramours warn: They are in over their heads. They're out of touch with the real world.

They'll tell you whatever you want to hear. Trust us -- we're not like the other guys. We'd never take you for granted.

You're the center of everything. Buckeyes are beautiful.

Pardon us if Ohioans don't swoon. The presidential pick-up lines are old. Political charmers who come calling only when they need something are a turnoff.

Besides, jilted lovers have long memories. We've been burned by campaigning suitors in khakis and rolled-up shirtsleeves before.

Yet once again, romancing politicians are spending a fortune in Ohio to win our favor with ubiquitous campaign appearances and ads. What seems like unlimited cash from corporations and super-political action committees can buy a lot of baubles.

But we're a swing state prone to mood swings. When we're not red, we're blue. When we're not predictable, we're volatile. When we've lost our patience -- along with our jobs, homes, livelihoods, and security -- watch out.

Disheartened, dissatisfied, and divided Ohioans demand more than passing political relationships. But the payoff of genuinely getting to know flyover country, and building a meaningful bond based on tangible plans and transparency, could be big Nov. 6.

Count on us playing hard to get. Court us with care.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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