All eyes on Ohio’s voters in Obama-Romney race
BY LYNN SWEET Twitter: @lynnsweet October 15, 2012 10:14PM
A supporter holds up a sign during a campaign rally where US First Lady Michelle Obama is due to speak at the Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, on October 15, 2012. Three weeks before election day, the White House race between US president Barack Obama and his Republican foe Mitt Romney remains statistically tied, with Obama maintaining just a slight advantage, a new opinion poll found Monday. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SamadJEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages
Updated: November 17, 2012 6:24AM
CINCINNATI — Michelle Obama, Paul Ryan and Ann Romney all stumped in the Buckeye State on Monday — with the Obama and Romney teams throwing massive assets at this crucial battleground.
With early voting starting in Ohio on Oct. 2, it has been election month in Ohio more than Election Day.
Mitt Romney was here on Saturday, President Barack Obama returns on Wednesday and Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen hit Thursday to bolster the Obama drive.
Michelle Obama tried to spur early voting in general and Ohio in particular by mailing her absentee ballot with a public flourish. Ryan also looked for early votes. Ann Romney worked to turnout women voters.
At Ohio Wesleyan University in the city of Delaware, the first lady said: “Today I voted for my husband! Yes! It felt so good. Right now, my absentee ballot, it’s on its way to Illinois, my home state — which means that we are one vote closer to re-electing my husband and moving this country forward for four more years.
“So forgive me if I’m a little excited today — for me, it was Election Day,” she said. She also stopped in Cleveland, where she closed her speech by urging people to take a campaign bus to the early voting site “to cast your ballot for Barack Obama.”
Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, touched down at Luken Field here for a brief rally where a top agenda item was early voting.
“Friends, don’t forget, early voting’s already started here in Ohio.
. . . What that means is you can vote early so that on Election Day, you can help get people to the polls. You can help make the phone calls. You can help give people rides. This election’s so important, we even need you to talk to your relatives to get them out,” Ryan said.
Ohio has 18 electoral votes and an outsized place in the history of electing presidents. The state has picked the winner since 1964 — and no Republican has won the White House without Ohio. Romney has a tougher time than Obama getting to 270 electoral votes without Ohio.
In 2008, Obama won Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote to 46.6 percent for Sen. John McCain. The realclearpolitics.com average on Monday night gave Obama a 2.2-percentage point lead in Ohio.
Ohio has remained a battleground largely because of its geographic, ethnic, racial and economic diversity. No one media market rules the state.
“Ohio is a microcosm of America,” former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, told me. “I tell people if you would shrink America, you would end up in Ohio.”
No one city dominates the politics of the state and each metro area has its own personality: Cincinnati has a Southern flavor; Cleveland is more Northeast; Columbus, Midwest. Add to that a portion of that state that is part of Appalachia.
“By far, the overwhelming issue in Ohio is jobs,” John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, told me. The Romney and Obama ads running in Ohio markets — by the campaigns and allies — have a heavy focus on the economy.
The economic diversity of the state has kept the jobless rate below the national average the past year — and that’s to Obama’s advantage.
Adding a “new wrinkle” in the 2012 contest, Green said, are energy issues that are unique to Ohio.
Ohio has new shale gas fields and a coal mining industry. Romney is accusing Obama of stifling Ohio energy producers through federal regulations and pledges on the stump and in an ad that is in heavy rotation in the Cincinnati market to assist in “producing our own energy in the ground in Ohio.”
Working heavily against Romney is Obama’s auto industry rescue — an issue that resonates in a state where an enormous part of the economy depends on the health of the carmakers.
Romney Ohio director Scott Jennings told me that since the Denver debate where Romney bested Obama, “We have seen a hugh flow of momentum from Independents, swing voters, undecided’s and soft Obama voters towards the Romney ticket.”
About a third of Ohio voters are expected to vote before election day. Aaron Pickrell, a senior adviser to the Obama Ohio campaign, told me that gives Obama “a five-week window to get every supporter of the president out to vote.”
Anitsa Zalants, 48, is the owner of Mercene’s Gorgeous Hunk of Junk shop in Lebanon, a town where Romney held a large rally last Saturday. She voted for McCain in 2008 and is undecided in 2012. “I am concerned about the health care because I do have some health issues of my own.”
The debates — one is Tuesday, when Romney and Obama have a showdown at Hofstra University — will help her decide. “I like to be open minded until the very end.”
Kathy Axiotes, 55, her sister and a co-owner of the shop, voted for Obama in 2008, and after seeing Romney at the rally decided to vote for him. “I’ve been disenchanted I think over the past four years” with many of her female friends “struggling to make ends meet.” Everything she heard Romney say was “positive,” she said. “And I just think it is time for a change.”
Footnote: Obama returns to Chicago on Oct. 25 to cast his own early ballot.