Obama, Romney fight to the end in Buckeye State battleground

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    Republican challenger Mitt Romney speaks at Toledo's SeaGate Centre Convention Center in September.

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  • President Obama addresses a crowd at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green in late September.
    President Obama addresses a crowd at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green in late September.

    After months of campaigning across battleground Ohio - and repeated stops in northwest Ohio - the race for president has reached the final stretch.

    And while President Obama's $80-billion taxpayer-funded rescue of the auto industry has dominated the race in this state, other issues will play a role in voter choices, such as the rising national debt, women's issues, a sluggish national economy, domestic energy supplies, and health care.

    "The fact that Ohio's economy is coming back is due significantly to the actions that this President is making," said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is campaigning doggedly for Mr. Obama.

    "Everyone has their own perception," Mr. Strickland said. "I think the President is probably 5 points ahead. If the President were to win Ohio by 5 points that would be a smashing victory in a state like Ohio, given that Ohio is at best a center state, some would say center-right."

    READ MORE: The Blade 2012 Voters Guide

    Republicans believe Mr. Obama's base is less enthusiastic than four years ago, while their own base is more enthusiastic. They're hoping that the tables are turned on 2008, when a highly energized Obama/Biden campaign overwhelmed a Republican base divided over the ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

    Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said Mr. Romney's plan of focusing on energy, small business, tax reform, and deficit reduction should appeal to voters looking toward the future.

    "If you're an undecided probably you don't like the status quo. We have an incredibly weak recovery. Promises haven't been kept. The economic growth in America is half of what the Obama Administration projected a year ago, one-third what they projected in 2009, and that's a 9 million jobs gap. They projected that unemployment would be 50 percent lower than it is today. It hasn't worked," he said.

    The 2009 auto bailout that saved some 1.1 million jobs nationwide and at least 155,000 in Ohio will be seen as the key to Mr. Obama's re-election if he wins because of the high concentration of auto manufacturing jobs in this swing state.

    Republican challenger Mitt Romney speaks at Toledo's SeaGate Centre Convention Center in September.
    Republican challenger Mitt Romney speaks at Toledo's SeaGate Centre Convention Center in September.

    Mr. Obama is hoping the auto bailout brings him some gratitude, especially in the voter-rich, auto-manufacturing counties across northern Ohio - Defiance, Lucas, Lorain, Cuyahoga, Trumbull, and Mahoning.

    “When you were down and you were out, [and] your whole economy was threatened, the President had your back. You’ve got to have his back too,” former President Bill Clinton told a Parma, Ohio, campaign rally.

    "Two great American companies, Chrysler and GM, stood on the brink of elimination," Mr. Obama said when he visited the Toledo Jeep assembly plant in June, 2011. "It would have been a brutal and irreversible shock to the economy of millions of Americans."

    Mr. Romney is counting on voters being disenchanted enough with Mr. Obama over the nation's slow economic recovery, additional $1 trillion a year in deficits, and the Affordable Care Act, which conservatives see a government takeover, to look at him as an alternative.

    "One of the promises [President Obama] made was he was going to create more jobs, and today there are 23 million people who are out of work or have stopped looking for work or underemployed," Mr. Romney told hundreds in Cincinnati in September. "Let me tell you, if you have a coach that is zero and 23 million, you say it's time to get a new coach."

    Mr. Romney has highlighted energy as an issue of interest to Ohioans, accusing the President of waging a "war on coal," a case that appears to be resonating along with Mr. Romney's endorsement of domestic natural gas and oil drilling in eastern Ohio.

    Mr. Obama has appealed to women voters, who favor him by a double-digit margin, reminding them that he supports abortion rights and easy access to contraceptives, not to mention the Affordable Care Act, while Mr. Romney has said he would support reversing Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and would end funding for Planned Parenthood.

    The race will boil down to turnout, and both claim to have a powerful "ground game" that has sifted through public databases supplemented by their phone-calling and door-knocking to discern the voters most likely to support them in the election. Both organizations are concentrating on tracking those voters and getting them to vote - early, if at all possible, to save the candidates' get-out-the-vote resources for the hardest cases on Election Day.

    Dr. David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, attributed the close race to the economy.

    "Every president fails to close the expectations gap — what people think a president can do versus what can actually be done. The key is for a president to narrow that gap as much as possible," Mr. Cohen said. Mr. Obama's success, he said, will depend on how well he has reminded voters of how much the situation has improved since he took over the White House four years ago.

    "If Obama wins Ohio, it will be because of his superior ground game," Mr. Cohen said.

    Both candidates have showered attention on Ohio, with multiple personal campaign visits and with expenditures of nearly $100 million in Ohio alone on television advertising.

    Public polls now show the race in a dead heat or Mr. Obama with a couple points over Mr. Romney.

    With the race that close, the campaigns have been pleading with their supporters to "bank" their votes and take advantage of Ohio's liberal early voting opportunities.

    Four years ago, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden carried Ohio by 51.5 percent to 47 percent over Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin, or a vote of 2,940,044 to 2,677,820, a gap of 262,224 votes.

    Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.