Ohio holds the key


ONE WEEK to go and all roads, it seems, lead to Ohio. The Buckeye State with its eight million registered voters was always a key to US presidential elections but never were its 18 electoral votes more courted and crucial. If President Obama, with a two-percentage-point lead in aggregates of polls in the state (by Real Clear Politics, RCP), can hold the line, Mitt Romney’s task is almost insurmountable. Not surprisingly the last few days will see the two candidates and their running mates traipse many of its highways.

Four years ago, Obama won Ohio by 262,000 votes and this time his famed ground team is well rooted – 131 offices across the state, with nearly a thousand staging areas where volunteers meet to fan out into their neighbourhoods. Romney has only 40 local offices.

There are a number of distinct battlegrounds here. One in eight jobs is tied directly or indirectly to the car industry, whose rescue by Obama is being heavily contested by his rival. And then there are the young married women who turned to Obama in 2008 out of frustration with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but could turn against him now on the economy, the students of Ohio State, minority voters. Polls show Romney will need nearly 70 per cent of undecided voters to carry the state. It makes sense here and elsewhere for Obama to focus on turnout rather than persuasion in the final days.

Political ads have saturated local TV newscasts. Since April, ads by the two campaigns have run 187,000 times at a reported cost of almost $120 million. In the past month 70 different versions have been aired in Ohio alone. (A survey of the last 30 days by an advert tracking service shows that nationally 160,000 commercials supporting the president have run, to 140,000 for Romney. Total advertising spends are likely to run to $500 million to $400 million in favour of Republicans.)

RCP’s aggregated poll gives Romney a small 0.7 per cent lead nationally, but, to win, a candidate must secure some 270 electoral college votes. On a number of occasions the presidency has gone to a minority candidate because the two-tier electoral system is not directly proportional. RCP’s respected political blog site suggests Obama currently has a 201-191 lead in electoral college votes with what it sees as 11 states still in the balance.

The New York Times is less cautious, arguing that Obama now has a solid lead or is well positioned in states that account for up to 243 votes. It sees seven states as in the balance, representing 89 electoral votes: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. A victory in Ohio and New Hampshire (four votes) by Obama will leave him just six votes from victory, a scenario that would require Romney to win all the rest of RCP’s “toss-up” 11 states to prevail.

Florida with 29 votes is currently in Romney’s camp marginally, but a must-win for him from Obama in 2008. And Virginia (13), currently tied, must also go his way if he is to have any chance. But time is running out on this tantalising race. Before election day, Ohio officials estimate that at least one-third of voters will have already cast their ballots.

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