The Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan was in every region of Ohio last week, making appearances individually during the week and then together on Friday, and drawing crowds that largely outnumbered the turnout for the party's unsuccessful 2008 nominee, John McCain.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are also hitting the state of Ohio hard. President Obama has been in Ohio in five of the last six weeks, and is due back on Wednesday with a rally in heavily Democratic Athens County on the campus of Ohio University.
With about 70 cities visited so far since June, and about $93 million spent on television advertising, Ohio is living up to its reputation as a top swing state.
"Ohio is a very good bellwether state. It votes with the winner almost all of the time," said University of Akron political science professor John Green, director of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. The only exceptions to that rule were Democrats - Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. No Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio.
"Ohio is a swing state basically because it's very diverse. No state is a perfect microcosm of the nation but Ohio comes about as close as any of the large states," Professor Green said. "Whether we're talking race, or ethnicity, or religion, or income, or occupation, Ohio is very close to the nation as a whole."
As a microcosm of the nation, Ohio is seen as the last Republican-leaning state a Republican has to win on the march to 270 electoral votes.
While Mr. Obama can get to the critical 270 level without Ohio, the Buckeye State is highly desirable for him as well, if only to keep it from going Republican.
The campaign for Ohio's 18 electoral votes is dominating the 2012 election campaign way out of proportion to the state's size.
According to The Washington Post's tracking of television advertising, Ohio ranks third in the country in spending by the two campaigns this year on television advertising (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/track-presidential-campaign-ads-2012/), with $104 million spent in Florida, $96 million in Virginia, and $93 million in Ohio. California, with three times as many electoral votes as Ohio, has had no money spent on political ads by the presidential candidates.
And that level of spending has already eclipsed the 2008 campaign, with 23 days still left in the race. According to a CNN analysis of spending (http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/map/ad.spending/), the two candidates spent $47.1 million in Florida, $40.1 million in Ohio, and $33.2 million in Virginia.
Ohio is also one of the three states getting the lion's share of campaign visits, according to The Washington Post's campaign tracker (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/2012-presidential-campaign-visits/). Florida has had 79 presidential campaign visits since June. Ohio is second with 75 visits, and Virginia third with 68.
Since June, President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, and First Lady Michelle Obama have visited cities and towns in Ohio 32 times, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and Mr. Romney's wife, Ann Romney, have visited 34 times.
The electoral college map used by the Web-based journal Real Clear Politics (realclearpolitics.com) illustrates how essential Ohio is to Mr. Romney, and how important, though slightly less so, it is to Mr. Obama.
Using averages of all the polls it follows, Real Clear Politics, as of Sunday, identified 16 states and the District of Columbia that were "leaning, likely, or solid" for Mr. Obama, accounting 201 electoral votes. They were California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
The Real Clear Politics map then identifies 23 states comprising 191 electoral votes that are in the same category for Mr. Romney. They are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
That left 146 contested electoral college votes in 11 states: Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), and New Hampshire (4).
Narrowing down to the states that as of Sunday were divided by less than 2 percentage points shifts the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa to President Obama, and Florida and North Carolina to Mr. Romney. That leaves Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Nevada for a total of 50 electoral votes. not decided yet?
Under that scenario, Mr. Obama needs only 17 electoral votes to win, which he could gain with several combinations of those five states - or just by winning Ohio.
But Mr. Romney would need 35 votes, and he can't get there without Ohio's 18.
Jim Ruvolo, a former Ohio and Lucas County Democratic chairman, said Mr. Romney isn't going to win enough swing states to get around needing Ohio.
"It is more important to Republicans but it's the perfect block to Obama. If [President Obama] wins Ohio, Romney doesn't have a path, and I think Ohio, because of the auto rescue, is very much in play for Obama," Mr. Ruvolo said.
Ohio Republican strategist Mark Weaver noted that Ohio's electoral votes have shrunk as the nation's population has shifted to California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. In 1960, Ohio had 4.6 percent of all electoral votes. Today it has 3.3 percent.
"Every campaign knows you can't win the White House without Ohio. Even as our electoral strength has shrunk we're still the go-to state," Mr. Weaver said.
Strategists working Ohio for the Obama and Romney campaigns both expressed confidence.
Greg Schultz, Obama campaign director, said the race was going to tighten regardless of President Obama's widely panned debate performance Oct. 3 - something Mr. Obama will have the opportunity to put behind him in the national debate Tuesday.
"We've internally have been preparing for a 50-50 election and we really have been focused on building on our grassroots strength for years," Mr. Schultz said. "If Mitt Romney loses Ohio he cannot be president. That is our focus."
The campaign has several issues that it trumpets in Ohio, including the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and threats that Republicans plan to slash programs like Medicare, Planned Parenthood, and college loans to give tax cuts to the rich. Its ace-in-the-hole seems to be the 2009 auto rescue that it says saved the one in eight Ohio jobs that are connected to the auto industry. Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden trumpet the $80 billion auto rescue constantly. Mr. Romney, who argued against a taxpayer-funded bailout in a 2008 newspaper op-ed piece that was headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
"Very few times do you have that clear of a distinction: one says I'm going to let Detroit fail. The other says I'm going to invest in the American worker," Mr. Schultz said.
Mr. Romney highlights a five-point economic recovery plan that includes repealing Obamacare, which he portrays as a tax burden on small business and a failed promise to lower the cost of health premiums. He vows to knock down barriers to developing coal, natural gas, and oil; accuses the Obama administration of not standing up to Chinese "cheating" on trade, and promises to restore threatened cuts to the military, such as to the tank plant in Lima.
Scott Jennings, the state director of the Romney campaign, pointed to the large crowd turnouts for Romney rallies of the last week - 12,000 in Cuyahoga Falls, 9,000 in Sidney, 8,500 in Lancaster, and 11,000 in Lebanon - as evidence of a campaign that is "well-positioned" to win the race.
"We're seeing a real uptick in enthusiasm," Mr. Jennings said. "We’re going to continue to pursue our regional messaging. Ohio is a diverse place with local economies that are very different depending where you are. Our argument is that our plan would create 12 million jobs and help Ohio recover. We argue that their plan would keep us on the path to stagnation."
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