Like Spring Flowers, Presidential Candidates Arrive Early to Ohio

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GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets a voter.(Photo: MittRomney.com)
GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets a voter.(Photo: MittRomney.com)

Spring’s come early to central Ohio this year.

The way things are going, we’ll probably have green daffodils by St. Patrick’s Day. The flowers and buds aren’t the only early arrivals. Presidential candidates, especially Republicans, have started popping up, too. They don’t usually start camping out in Ohio until the leaves are falling and the Buckeye Battle Cry is blasting out of Ohio Stadium.

That’s because every four years Ohio is the nation’s biggest general election prize. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. In the 20th century just two Democrats – FDR in 1944 and JFK in 1960 – made it without Ohio.

We usually leave the winnowing out process of primaries and caucuses to states like Iowa and New Hampshire. They don’t really count for much in the general election.

This year it’s different. Republicans all want to give President Obama the boot but they can’t settle on who’s best suited to do the kicking.

Super Tuesday’s is just a few days away and Ohio’s the biggest prize of the 10 primaries and caucuses. The winner will get a bump in delegates, earning bragging rights for capturing a state that reflects the nation as a whole.

Ohio’s the nation’s general election battleground because we’ve got everything– big cities, small towns, farms, unions, union-busters, Republicans, Democrats and, of course, lots of independent voters.

Ohio Republicans come in all varieties, too. We’ve got social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, Tea Parties and even members of that vanishing Republican tribe, the moderates.

Republican leaders across the state are sending mixed signals. Sen. Rob Portman and former Sen. George Voinovich both back Mitt Romney.

Attorney General Mike DeWine actually has endorsed three candidates- first DeWine picked Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out. Next DeWine signed on with Romney. The attorney general didn’t like the message Romney was sending so now he’s backing Rick Santorum. Stay tuned.

Gov. John Kasich said nice things about Haley Barbour but Barbour decided not to run. Kasich’s not endorsing anybody.

The other two candidates in the race, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, also have Ohio backers. It might not help Gingrich, however, that his second ex-wife is from Ohio.

Republicans don’t like to take advice from Democrats but all the candidates probably are learning what John F. Kennedy famously learned when he won the presidency but lost Ohio to Republican Richard M. Nixon in 1960.

Huge crowds had turned out across the state, including in Columbus, for Kennedy. “Ohio did that to me—they did it there,” Kennedy said on election night as he held up his inflamed right hand, bare to the elbow, calloused and red from greeting voters.

Callouses aside, there’s only one thing certain about the Republican primaries. Whoever wins the presidential nomination will be back in Ohio, along with President Obama, when the leaves are falling and the footballs are flying.

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