Obama’s ground game clinches race in Ohio

11/8/2012
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — For all the talk of an enthusiasm gap in Ohio, President Obama succeeded in getting enough of his base to the polls, and that proved to be the difference in his narrow, historic victory over Republican Mitt Romney.

“Two points or less,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist who did not work on the Romney campaign. “It’s still pretty close, the way Ohio usually is. The presumption by all Republicans was the Obama team would not turn out their base at the same level as it did in 2008. That presumption was wrong.”

A scant 107,241 votes separated the Democratic President and Mr. Romney in the final unofficial count in Ohio.

Given that there are nearly twice that many provisional ballots that have yet to be counted, Ohio might have been ripe for post-election litigation, a la Florida 2000.

But the fact that Mr. Obama nearly ran the board when it came to picking up other swing states has made the outcome of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes less critical to the final outcome. According to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, Mr. Obama is the first Democrat to win Ohio twice with more than 50 percent of the vote in 75 years. The final, unofficial results show Mr. Obama gained 50.18 percent of the Ohio vote, versus Mr. Romney’s 48.18 percent.

The difference for Mr. Obama in Ohio was the ground game, Mr. Redfern said as he offered several reasons for why Mr. Romney came up short.

“We were more prepared, and we were better funded, but it goes to the point of a heated primary,” he said. “We didn’t have one. They did. … In the case of Mitt Romney’s campaign, because of a late nomination, he was unable to build infrastructure in the state of Ohio. We’ve had four years. It means a great deal.

“Additionally, there was a heated battle for chairman of the Republican Party that I think was distracting to Bob Bennett and formerly to Kevin DeWine, and time and energy were wasted on their side,” Mr. Redfern said.

Mr. Obama carried just 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties, but they were generally the state’s most populated areas with plenty of Democratic votes. Mr. Romney made gains in rural and suburban counties that Mr. Obama won or performed extremely well in four years ago, but he failed in his goal of returning to the levels in those counties that President George W. Bush saw in his 2004 re-election bid.

While southwest Ohio, as expected, was nearly a sea of red for Mr. Romney, he failed to reclaim the golden prize of that region, Cincinnati’s Hamilton County, which went 52 percent to 47 percent for Mr. Obama.

In Lucas County, Mr. Obama captured 64 percent of the vote to Mr. Romney’s 34 percent. In northwest Ohio, he also carried Erie, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Wood counties.

The long Republican primary season gave Mr. Obama a huge head start here, said Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook.

“Before they even decided who the [primary] winner was, the Obama campaign had already decided it was Mitt Romney, and here in Ohio they spent millions and millions to make sure they defined who Romney was,” he said. “They portrayed him as an out-of-touch billionaire, and that resonated until the first debate.”

Jerry Chabler of Sylvania, a longtime Lucas County Democratic fund-raiser, said he believes Mr. Obama’s get-out-the-vote effort was the best he’d ever seen. He also said the Republican Party must evolve as the American public becomes more diverse. “The political demographics of this country have changed dramatically, and until the Republican Party really acknowledges that, and unless they change their direction, I think you’re going to see a whole lot more victories for Democrats,” he said.

Mr. Stainbrook said he’s tried to practice diversity in the party in Lucas County, saying his central committee looks like the United Nations.

“I have African-Americans, Latinos, women, Arab-Americans, everybody,” he said. “We went out and recruited people and made sure they were part of the process. You have to toil in the vineyard before it produces a bountiful harvest, so we did that up here. The problem with Barack Obama was that in 2008 they energized the youth vote and reached out to every demographic and got a head start.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.