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The mother of swing states

Ohio, one of 50 US states, is described as a must-have and will likely decide who will rule the rest, Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Nov 04, 2012 01:21 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

Lisa Ryan stood at the corner of a street packed on either side with cars that brought President Barack Obama's supporters to a campaign event at the other end.

Slight with dyed black hair blown all over by a chilly breeze, Ryan, held up a simple yard sign saying "Romney and Ryan" - not her, but Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate.

Some passing drivers honked in approval. Others gave her the thumbs up. And still others, the thumbs down. An Obama supporters tried to talk her out of it, but retreated.

A life-long Republican, Ryan believes a vote in the state of Ohio comes with a huge responsibility - her vote will determine who will occupy the White House next.

Ohio has been described as the mother of battleground states, the must-have state.

No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning that state. Romney must, therefore, win Ohio to win the election.

Democrats don't have that sword hanging over them. John F Kennedy, a Democrat, took care of that, winning the presidency while losing Ohio to Richard Nixon in 1960.

But Democrats must win the state to prevent a Republican from winning it and, as the legend goes, the race. Obama has visited Ohio 19 times this year, and held 26 political events.

"It's a big election and if we win Ohio we're going to win this election," the president said to a crowd of cheering supporters gathered on a basketball court in Springfield on Friday.

With 18 electoral college votes, Ohio is much smaller than California, 55; New York, 29 and Texas, but it pulls lot more clout because unlike them it is not married to either party.

Most of the 50 US states are either Democratic or Republican going by their voting history. Some are not, using their votes as votes and not contributions to some loyalty programme.

They are called battleground states, which become the focus of every presidential election. It's not a group set in stone, and can change, with a few stubborn exceptions.

Ohioans smugly claim leadership of that group. "Ohio is a melting pot," said Dottie Howe, a Hilliard Democrat, adding, "it's a miniaturised version of the country, representing different cultures, ethnicity, people."

The state is the way the country is.

Paul Beck, professor at Ohio State University agrees: "Ohio is a good cross section of the US, with virtually every group represented except perhaps a smaller number of Hispanics than the national average."

And they like the attention they get every election cycle, when the entire political machinery - politicians, analysts, pollsters, and political reporters - descends on the state.

They feel special. Maryland, just to bring out the contrast, is so securely Democratic that no candidate ever visits. Its voters are never wooed as avidly as Ohioans.

"But I think that they are tired of it by now," Beck added.

Television contributes the most to this weariness. Campaign ads running back to back in an unchanging loop, turn the set into a menace of unimaginable proportions.

Obama would have spent by the end of this week $9.5 million on ads in Ohio alone; and Romney $5.5 million. And then there is more by outfits supporting them.

Neither candidate has invested as much or more money in any of the other battleground states, including Florida and Virginia. Some others such as Michigan might even feel insulted.

The result is a mind-numbing onslaught.

"I DVR them," said a Republican who volunteers at Romney events, but didn't want to be identified because he felt both campaigns waste money on these ads.

He records his favourite TV programmes on the DVR and watches only the recording because he can then skip the ads. Just a few more days of this ordeal, he said.

It's a complete waste of money, most Ohioans contended.

Have the campaigns read them wrong then? If no one was watching those ads, that's a lot of wasted millions? But they could be on to something that's missed Ohioans.

"They make me nervous," said Mariam Welch, a Newark, Ohio Republican. She fears some Obama ads, the ones she found misleading, could confuse voters, turn them off Romney. And that's exactly the intention behind saturation advertising.