The last time Ohio voters didn't pick the winner in a presidential election was 1960. Republican Richard Nixon won the Buckeye State, but Democrat John F. Kennedy won the nation.
Since 1964, no other state has had such an unbroken string of siding with the winner.
No one can know until Nov. 6 whether 2012 will uphold Ohio's record as the pre-eminent swing state or end its reign, but neither the Obama nor Romney campaign is taking a chance.
"The tipping-point states appear to be Virginia and Ohio," said Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman. He said the state party will run the biggest state campaign organization in the country.
"What we look at is building an infrastructure that can turn out as many votes for the President as possible in all of Ohio's 88 counties," Mr. Redfern said.
Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said the Romney campaign may have been slow in getting organized six weeks ago but is now "running on all cylinders."
The Republican Party was riven by a leadership fight that drove the former chairman, Kevin DeWine, to resign in April. Mr. DeWine was replaced by Mr. Bennett, a veteran former chairman.
A pair of political polls released last week suggest that President Obama is inching closer to the magic figure of 50 percent, a point after which it would be tough for Mr. Romney to reverse the direction of the election.
A poll released last week by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut showed Mr. Obama leading Mr. Romney in Ohio by 47 percent to 38 percent -- a significant jump over Mr. Obama's standing in early May.
Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., a Democratic polling firm, released a poll last week showing the race as being tighter, with Mr. Obama ahead 47 percent to 44 percent, a statistical tie because it falls within the poll's margin of error.
Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, said it looked to him as if Mr. Obama's blitz of TV ads over the previous month was having an effect.
"What's going on now is a war to define Mitt Romney, and what you're seeing is that President Obama has won the most recent battle," Mr. Brown said.
One of those TV ads featured Toledoan Brian Slagle, a local auto-parts worker, who said Mr. Obama saved his job because of the 2009 rescue of the auto industry.
The ad featured shots of him driving to his job through the rain on I-475 and playing ball with his young son in his yard.
"Obama stuck his neck out for us," Mr. Slagle says on the screen as he disappears through a turnstile at the factory gate.
Polling and ads
A biting ad released in mid-May by the Obama campaign portrayed Mr. Romney as a greedy, job-killing corporate titan through his work with the investment firm Bain Capital that he formerly headed.
Bob Bennett, Ohio Republican chairman, says the state’s Romney campaign is ‘running on all cylinders,’ with door-to-door and phone-bank canvassing.
And, of course, it was in May that the world learned of an incident at Mitt Romney's prep school in Michigan where classmates alleged he forcibly cut the hair of a younger boy who was perceived as homosexual.
Even after that series of blows to Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama is running slightly behind where he was four years ago in Ohio. A June 17, 2008, poll by Quinnipiac showed Mr. Obama with 48 percent of the vote. Public Policy Polling in mid-June of 2008 had him at 50 percent.
Mr. Obama went on to carry Ohio in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote to Sen. John Mc- Cain's 47 percent.
It's not unusual for an incumbent to be below 50 percent in June and still win the election. Polls taken in June, 2004, found Republican President George W. Bush with between 42 and 46 percent of the vote at that time in Ohio. He went on to carry the state and win the election.
Among the issues
Mr. Bennett contended that the U.S. Supreme Court's blockbuster decision on Thursday upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act will backfire on the Democrats.
"[The] Supreme Court decision has really motivated Republicans. They just can't take another tax hike from this administration," Mr. Bennett said.
"Obama has really united the Republicans in Ohio," adding that Mr. Obama has lost social conservatives, Tea Party followers, and independents.
Republican outrage fueled a reported $4.6 million cash infusion into the Romney campaign in the 24 hours after the Affordable Care Act decision, including $120,000 from Ohio.
"It's going to be like 2004. I think it's going to go down to the wire," Mr. Bennett said.
Democrats are planning to keep the Issue 2 fight of 2011 alive in the minds of union voters. That was the referendum on Senate Bill 5, a Republican-backed law, and endorsed by Mr. Romney, to curtail public employee bargaining rights in Ohio.
Supporters of repealing Senate Bill 5 collected 1.3 million signatures. Issue 2 was soundly defeated in November, a victory for Ohio Democrats and labor unions.
Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, vows to have the biggest state campaign organization in the nation, with 100 offices statewide, four in Lucas County.
Associated Press Enlarge
Mr. Redfern said that successful campaign, leading to overwhelming defeat of the collective-bargaining law backed by Republicans, will be linked with the 2009 auto-industry bailout that allowed General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC to weather the Great Recession. Mr. Obama backed that bailout, while Mr. Romney endorsed the bankruptcy route.
"We have to continue to make the connection between the Jeep worker and the candidates … what [the Republicans] stand for and what we stand for," Mr. Redfern said. "If you convince the Jeep worker, the General Motors worker, the Dana [Holding Corp.] worker, the teacher, the custodian, the TARTA driver, and you cultivate that relationship through the summer and the fall, we'll be OK."
The ground game
Rick Wiley, political director of the Republican National Committee, promised an energetic, door-to-door campaign to win over voters and said "tens of thousands" of doors have been knocked on already.
He said the campaign will respond on the auto bailout issue and added that the Romney campaign expects to be competitive in Michigan as well.
"Voters are concentrated on jobs and the economy," Mr. Wiley said.
Both candidates have made multiple trips to Ohio this year -- seven by Mr. Obama and nine by Mr. Romney. Of the two, only Mr. Romney has been to Toledo in 2012; he spoke to supporters at a steel fence post factory in North Toledo in February.
Mr. Obama is expected to make his first Toledo-area appearance of the year on Thursday, starting a two-day bus trip in the area.
Both state chairmen said their party machinery is working to identify likely supportive voters through door-to-door canvassing and phone banks.
In this image from an Obama campaign ad, Toledoan Brian Slagle, an auto-parts maker, drives through rain on I-475 to his job. In the ad, Mr. Slagle credits the auto bailout and the President for saving his job and the industry.
While Democrats plan to have more than 100 offices, including at least four in Lucas County, Republicans are shooting for 34 in the state. The Romney campaign opened a "Victory" office in Bowling Green and will have one soon in Lucas County, Mr. Bennett said.
Obama offices include ones in downtown Toledo and Sylvania, and another is likely to be opened in Oregon.
The role of cash
Mr. Redfern predicted that close to $100 million will be spent in Ohio in the presidential campaign and that Mr. Obama would be outspent 2 to 1.
He said a big part of that will be from third-party groups allowed under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporations spending their own money to influence elections.
"You've got 20 billionaires trying to buy a democracy. It's wrong on so many levels," Mr. Redfern said.
Neither campaign would release figures on its television spending so far.
Mr. Bennett said reports to the Federal Elections Commission indicate that Mr. Obama has outspent Mr. Romney so far, and the Obama campaign did not dispute that.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.
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