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The Political Pulse

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The Knowledge: Ohio in focus

Mark Gettleson takes a close look at Ohio, a state which Mitt Romney must win if he has any hopes of becoming the next US President




WORDS: MARK GETTLESON



The city of Cincinnati, where Jerry Springer once served as Mayor, can probably claim to be the most electorally important in the world. It is the key swing city of the most important swing state in the greatest democracy on earth. Hamilton County, covering the city, hadn’t been lost by a Republican since Barry Goldwater in 1964 until the Obama campaign came to town four years ago and bested John McCain there by five points.
 
No Republican has ever won the Presidency without carrying the ‘Buckeye state’. Only two Democrats in the past century, Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and John F Kennedy in 1960, have done so. It is virtually impossible to see an electoral maths whereby Mitt Romney wins Ohio-less.
Demographically, it is easy to see why Ohio is the perennial swing state. In many ways, it is more a mini-USA than any other. It is slightly whiter and less Hispanic, but in terms of age, income and education, it sits right in the middle.

And like many swing states, Ohio has a schizophrenic character: the heavily Democratic north-east of the state owes more to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania than it does to ‘coal country’ in the south of the state. The latter contains a number of counties that voted to John McCain in even greater numbers than they had for George W Bush in 2004, like many in neighbouring Kentucky and West Virginia. It is within this context that Mitt Romney hammered Obama on environmental regulations hurting the coal industry during the second debate. Western Ohio, which provides the backdrop for the hit US TV show Glee, is as deeply conservative as its fictional newscaster Sue Sylvester.

This urban-rural split leaves estimates suggest party registration totals extraordinarily close: 37% Republicans, 36% Democratic.

It is therefore no surprise that the campaigns have been bombarding Ohio with TV advertising and visits, with the Democrats making most of the running up to this point. Many commentators, including Rupert Murdoch, have pointed out that the Obama campaign has managed to get their advertising far cheaper than the Romney camp – so that even though the parties are spending a similar amount, there are far more Democratic adverts.

Key to Democratic hopes however, as in other swing states, is the ground game: the view that the number of undecided voters is so small that ensuring your supporters are registered and get to the polls is far more important. On Tuesday, the Obama campaign won a major victory in the US Supreme Court, allowing ‘early voting’ to continue in Ohio counties (largely urban and Democratic) willing to offer it. This gives Democrats a much wider window in which to get their voters to the polls.

If Mitt Romney can’t use the final debate to break through Barack Obama’s organisational and advertising advantage in Ohio, he will not be entering the White House in November.