Ohio’s Role in 2012 Presidential Election As Important As 2004

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Obama and Romney campaign workers encourage voters to cast ballots for their respective candidates.(Photo: Debbie Holmes, WOSU News)
Obama and Romney campaign workers encourage voters to cast ballots for their respective candidates.(Photo: Debbie Holmes, WOSU News)

We’ve heard it many times: Ohio is the key to the 2012 presidential election. The Obama and Romney campaigns and their supporters are buying tens of millions of dollars in TV ads. The candidates make weekly visits to the state. But the key to winning Ohio may be organization, the little things – making phone calls and knocking on doors.

In the first part of a two part look at Getting Out Ohio’s vote, we look at why organization can be the key to victory.

On Election Day 2004 the polls showed President Bush trailing challenger John Kerry in a very tight race… so the president himself came to Columbus to work the phones and get out his vote.

“This is President Bush calling, how are you?”

It worked. He beat John Kerry in Ohio by just 119,000 votes out of more than 5 million votes cast.

How important was that Republican grassroots effort in re-electing George W Bush? John Kerry got a half million more Ohio votes than Al Gore did in 2000, yet John Kerry still lost. Republicans, aided by an anti-gay marriage ballot measure, bested that Democratic turnout.

In 2008, Barack Obama and Democrats learned their lesson. They increased their grassroots effort, got out their vote and Obama beat John McCain by a more comfortable margin of 5 points.

This year’s Ohio election looks to be more like the Bush – Kerry fight.

Bowling Green State University Associate Professor of political science, Melissa Miller says this year won’t be a repeat of 2008; it will be a lot closer.

“Ohio was the Florida of the 2004 election and we may have a repeat performance here in Ohio,” says Miller.

Miller says while President Obama has a better favorability rating than GOP candidate Mitt Romney; that does not necessarily translate to votes.

“There are definitely people who voted for Obama in 2008 who don’t feel he’s done enough in his first term certainly on the economic front and that’s why it’s close,” says Miller.

Republicans are fired up according to Executive Director of the Ohio Republican Party, Matt Borges. He says their campaign aims to convert Republican passion into Republican votes.

“What 2004 taught us is that when their voters turn out and when our voters turn out we win. Our voters weren’t as excited turning out in 2008 and we lost,” says Borges.

While some previous Obama voters may be disappointed with decisions the President has made, Ohio Democratic Party director Kyle McDermott says the conventions showed Democrats are more fired up.

“There was a clear enthusiasm gap that very much favored the Democrats and as a result we have volunteers coming out in droves, donors both at the in state and national level investing in Ohio because as we know the presidential campaign will be won or lost in Ohio,” McDermott says.

McDermott says the campaign is focused on getting their supporters to cast their ballot early.

“We expect over 30 percent of the vote to come from early vote either in person or absentee and that is a huge percentage of the overall vote, so a lot of emphasis now has to be paid in early October instead of waiting until the first week of November,” explains McDermott.

But early absentee voting has been at the center of a continuing controversy in Ohio. Voters have more access to mail-in absentee ballots than in the past because Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted mailed applications to every voter.

But a new state law restricts in-person early voting. Early voting the weekend before the election remains in legal limbo.

Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, Carrie Davis says the legal maneuvers to change election voting rules can play a role in turnout as lawsuits move through the courts.

“Everyone that has a stake in the election is pushing for their version of voting rights. It’s a push and pull sadly since the Bush versus Gore court decision in the 2000 election,” says Davis.

Community groups like Common Cause are concerned about changes in absentee voting rules in Ohio. The group’s chairman Sam Gresham says his organization holds voter education events. One was held on the South side at Southfield Community Baptist Church.

“The confusion is the problem because it deters. It takes away enthusiasm. It makes people afraid,” says Gresham.

Republican Jon Husted counters voters in Ohio have plenty of opportunity to cast ballots.

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