Don’t squander Ohio’s role in the presidential electionWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s a prediction: Ohio might not always be a presidential swing state.
We might not always be the state to win.
One day the Buckeye State might not be worth the gazillions spent on television ads, mailings, phone calls and every-other-day visits from the candidates. Our population is declining; we are down to 18 electoral votes and the next census could take away more.
As populations shift to the Southwest and the Latino population becomes a more sought-after demographic, Ohio could lose some of its electoral prominence, according to Sam Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Toledo.
But for at least one more presidential election, maybe two, Ohio matters.
We matter a lot. And we should enjoy it.
“Every vote does count. That is for sure,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. “I know people are tired of seeing TV ads. I am, too, but we do have a great opportunity.”
It is a proud fact that Ohio has accurately picked the president for the past 12 elections; the last candidate to lose Ohio and still become president was John F. Kennedy in 1960. Also, no Republican has ever won without carrying the state. Current polls show President Barack Obama, a Democrat, with a slight edge on Republican Mitt Romney.
Portman said Ohio is a classic swing state with no clear majority. Adding to Ohio’s complexity is that voters are willing to change their minds, making the state’s 18 electoral votes anyone’s to win — or lose.
“We are not blue or red, which makes us a prime target in every presidential election year,” the Republican said. “It puts us in the spotlight. If you lived in Texas or New York, you would be looking at Ohio and saying, ‘I wish I could impact the election like that.’”
But many Ohioans are tired of the onslaught. They want the ads to stop. They want the visits to end. They want the calls to cease.
So what’s the alternative?
Nelson said some states haven’t seen the candidates this entire campaign season. He has friends in other states who plan to vote, but know their votes won’t truly matter.
The professor used to be in that club. Then he moved to Ohio before the 2000 election.
“I had been living in Illinois where things weren’t close, and I got here and I was like, ‘Oh, my vote matters.’”
In 2000 and 2004, Republican George W. Bush won Ohio — and the election. Before that, Democrat Bill Clinton won two terms in the White House, taking Ohio both times.
Ohio’s importance probably doesn’t go back to its founding in 1803, but certainly in modern politics Ohio has played a pivotal role, according to Nelson.
He attributes it in part to the state’s location. Ohio borders Michigan to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the east, Indiana to the west, Kentucky to the south and West Virginia to the southeast. Each border comes with a variety of educational levels and occupations.
“The state is really diverse and is somehow a microcosm of the U.S., which means it will be in the middle of the divide,” Nelson said. “Even though the state is Republican leaning, it is close enough that it is a swing state.”
In 2008, Ohio went blue for Obama. Nelson said in this election there are plausible ways for Obama to win a second term without Ohio, but it would be much harder — almost impossible — for Romney to do the same.
Portman said Ohioans are concerned about jobs and their future. He thinks Romney’s plan for economic growth would benefit the state’s large automobile industry. Romney did not want the automobile industry to go bankrupt, Portman said. He had a plan, just not the same plan as Obama.
Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said the election hinges on Ohio. Billboards, radio and television ads and volunteers at every polling location are part of the plan to secure Ohio for Obama — a president who designed the auto bailout that many Northwest Ohio workers lauded.
Rothenbuhler has been interviewed by journalists from across the globe. Everyone wants to know how Ohio will swing.
“If that doesn’t make us feel important, then I guess you don’t care,” Rothenbuhler said.
But even if you don’t care, it’s hard to ignore. Ohio was mentioned during the first presidential debate in Denver on Oct. 3.
Portman said he tried to be as authentic as possible when he played Obama during prep for that debate. He didn’t take it easy on Romney. He wanted to prepare him for anything.
“If you are doing a good job, the candidate doesn’t like you,” he said.
Portman is proud to be a part of a moment that many pundits say turned the campaign into a “horse race,” but he gives the credit to Romney.
“He did that on his own, not because of his advisers,” Portman said. “He was being himself. He is passionate about needing to get America on track.”
Democrat Angela Zimmann, who is running for Ohio’s 5th Congressional District, said if she beats Republican Bob Latta she will work with Obama or Romney.
“I have a group of supporters who are called ‘Republicans for Zimmann’ — they are voting for Mitt Romney and me,” she said. “People here in this district are really independent and cross party lines all the time.”
That independence is what both Romney and Obama camps are hoping for come Election Day. And it’s why everyone will be watching Ohio.
“I would encourage everyone to go online or otherwise get the information that you need and exercise your right to vote. This could be a close election in Ohio,” Portman said.
Email questions or comments to Toledo Free Press Community Ombudsman Brandi Barhite at email@example.com.