In this file photo combination, President Barack Obama performs the traditional… (Amy Sancetta / AP File Photo )
It’s no accident of geography that brings President Obama to Cleveland on Thursday while his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, appears in Cincinnati; the two cities, at opposite ends of the state, are key to who will win what could be the deciding battleground of the 2012 election.
Already, the two campaigns are spending more money in Ohio than any other state, reflecting the judgment on both sides that if Obama wins Ohio, Romney will have very little chance of carrying the election. The outcome of the election will be heavily influenced by three metropolitan regions – Columbus, the state capital, which already is seeing near-saturation levels of campaign advertising, and the two that will host candidates Thursday.
In 2008, Obama changed a voting pattern that had been entrenched in Ohio for decades – Democratic victories there took the form of an inverted C, starting with a swath of counties bordering Lake Erie in the north of the state, then down along the state’s eastern border with Pennsylvania and into the relatively low-income, Appalachian counties of the southeast.
Republicans, by contrast, for generations had dominated central and western Ohio, with Cincinnati, in the state’s southwestern corner, being the largest GOP stronghold.
Obama carried the northern part of the state, winning Cuyahoga County – Cleveland and its suburbs – with a margin of more than a quarter million votes. But he lost most of the southern part of the C, those mostly white, low-income counties where cultural and racial attitudes more closely resemble those of neighboring West Virginia than northern Ohio. He won the state largely by combining his huge vote total in the Cleveland area with a 100,000 vote margin in and around Columbus and cracking the Republican hold on Cincinnati.
When Obama carried Hamilton County (Cincinnati and its suburbs), he became the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide in 1964. Before that, the last Democrat to carry the county was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even he only did so twice, in 1932 and 1936. Obama’s victory in the county came in part from a large turnout of black voters. But it also capped a steady shift of party loyalties in the area, which has moved slowly but steadily since the late 1980s from being a Republican fortress to becoming one of the state’s main swing regions.
In 2010, Republicans re-established their dominance of the Cincinnati region, ousting a Democratic congressman who had won along with Obama two years earlier.
The outcome in Cincinnati this fall and how heavy the turnout is in the Cleveland area may well determine which man wins the November election.
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