2 days to Election Day: Ohio

Ohio has been the most stubborn state for Mitt Romney to gain any traction in the polls. In a state heavily polled in October, Romney managed to lead in only three of them and tied Obama in another five polls. Since the end of September, Obama has consistently polled near or above the 50% level. While the state is not exactly enamored with Obama, Mitt Romney has not given that reason to vote for him. There was an interesting article- I forget where- suggesting that a possible reason may be the doing of the Republican Party itself. Namely, the budgetary and fiscal reforms that Republican Governor John Kasich has instituted, along with the friendlier environment for businesses in the state, has improved the economy of Ohio in the past two years. The perception is that the voters of Ohio are hesitant to rock the boat and change course in midstream. Of course, Obama is taking credit for the economic improvement in Ohio, specifically by touting his auto industry bailout as somehow saving the Ohio economy. As Governor Kasich has correctly pointed out, however, auto industry jobs account for only a small percentage of job growth in Ohio since 2010.

In 2004, Bush won Ohio by 118,000 votes and Obama in 2008 by 273,000 votes- a swing of 391,000 votes. Even if Mitt Romney can flip the 7 counties Obama took from Bush- Wood, Ottawa, Sandusky, Geaugua, Stark, Tuscarawa and Hamilton- only makes up 97,000 votes. Where Romney needs to perform better than expected are Hamilton, Franklin and Montgomery counties. Hamilton county is certainly a possible, but the last Republican to win Franklin county outright was Bob Dole in 1996. Of course, there are obvious pitfalls comparing 2012 to 2008 or 2004. First, voter turnout is expected to be lighter than 2008 which helps Romney. Secondly, as the 2010 midterms indicated, the state has shifted to the GOP somewhat. In the 2010 midterm elections, Ohio voters cast over 2 million votes for Republican candidates and slightly over 1.5 million for Democrats for a 1.3 to 1 ratio. In the 2012 primaries, many of them not even involving competitive races, Republican turnout was even greater with a 1.9 to 1 ratio. Obviously, if these ratios hold in the general election, Romney wins easily. However, these ratios are more a reflection of the Republican brand at the local level. More importantly, the internals of these polls show a greater enthusiasm for Romney among registered Republicans than that shown for Obama among registered Democrats. And, early voting figures out of Ohio show either greater Republican participation or decreased Democratic enthusiasm. Romney will, of course, easily carry the rural counties and those along the Ohio River.

Simply looking at the ebb and flow of Romney’s momentum in the state, it is a reflection of the national campaign. At the end of May, Obama enjoyed an average 5.7 point lead in the polls but after Romney wrapped up the nomination, that lead shrunk. After the Tampa convention, Obama’s lead shrunk to an average of 1.6 points which is clearly within the margin of error of most polls and over 9% of Ohio voters were still undecided. But then came what everyone describes as a generally bad month for Romney and he fell back to an average 4.1 disadvantage in the polls- outside the margin of error. Still, an average of 7% of voters were still undecided. Thus, Romney’s debate performances and his campaign stops in Ohio have to have had an effect here. If he wins this state, it is attributable to a last minute surge of support. Assuming turnout of about 50%, considerably below 2008 levels, and based on recent polling, that gives Obama a mere 13,000 vote lead with 403,000 undecided voters. Assuming Romney takes 60% of those undecided voters at the last minute- about the rate from 2008 of last minute voters for McCain- then Romney takes Ohio by almost 11,000 votes. And that is the scenario this writer envisions- a fairly narrow but definite Romney victory in Ohio.

In the Senate race, the unabashedly uber-liberal Sherrod Brown is up for reelection. I realize there are many here on this site who are huge fans of Republican candidate Josh Mandel and I have, in the past, questioned that support. Specifically, I question his resume in his current post. Namely, he seems to be the beneficiary, like Obama, of the policies of Governor Kasich rather than anything he has done. There are also some things in his past which some of my critics have attacked me over, claiming that he had some great Republican epiphany along the way. I also questioned his family’s rather consistent campaign donations to some of the most liberal candidates in Ohio and in other states. In other words, I fail to see the Republican “golden boy” that others see. Being a prolific fundraiser is one thing, and he certainly is that, but it is no substitute for a truly Republican/conservative resume beyond his words which is really all he can fall back on. Sorry to say, but in a state like Ohio, you cannot tell me there was not a better candidate available. Perhaps, if Mandel’s resume was more complete, one would feel different. And I venture that come election day, the voters of Ohio will feel the same way. Mandel has not led in any of the major polls taken since the beginning of this year and has managed to tie Brown in only a handful of them. With the pool of undecided voters dwindling and Brown pulling near 50% in every recent poll, it would appear that Sherrod Brown is headed back to the Senate. Obviously, he will draw on support from the major urban areas and the manufacturing hub of Akron and Dayton while Mandel will win the rural vote. But simply, there is not enough of the rural vote to overcome Brown’s base. The best Mandel can do, I am afraid, is come close.

Ohio loses two seats in the House which set up some interesting scenarios. The first was a Democratic showdown in the 9th District where Marcy Kaptur defeated Dennis Kucinich in the primary and retires the Lilluputian congressman. In a redistricting move that allegedly has Boehner’s fingerprints all over it, Steve Austria retired than challenge a fellow Republican in a primary. In effect, he was the odds man out.

There are some races of interest. In the Second District, located in the southern part of the state, it pretty much retained 75% of its former territory. However, incumbent GOP representative Jean Schmidt was defeated in her primary by Brad Wenstrup by a mere 99 votes. He will face William Smith in this heavily Republican district who defeated the favored David Krikorian by less than 70 votes. The general election will not hold such drama. The new 3rd district took in more than half of the old 12th. Joyce Beatty defeated former 15th district representative Mary Jo Kilroy in the Democratic primary while Chris Long will run for the GOP in a race he has no chance of winning.

The 6th district- along the West Virginia border- is held by Republican Bill Johnson who defeated Democrat Charlie Wilson in 2010 by slightly less than 11,000 votes. This year will be a rematch and Wilson remains popular in the area so this race needs to be closely watched. The new 7th District was dramatically altered in redistricting as Bob Gibbs was drawn into it setting up a potential battle between current GOP incumbent Steve Austria against 18th district (now defunct) GOP incumbent Bob Gibbs. Austria opted for retirement, although he went down with a few choice words for John Boehner.

Early in the redistricting process, it became obvious that Dennis Kucinich’s 10th was a target. Actually, demographics dictated such more than politics. Although Ohio showed population growth, it did not keep up with other states which is why it lost two seats. Most of that loss was in the Cleveland area, which is the 10th District. Therefore, it became the likely target and was ultimately eliminated and included in the elongated 9th district which is a black majority district and required under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That is represented by Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur who defeated Kucinich in the their primary and will likely win reelection. Finally, the 14th District in the northeastern corner of the state, is represented by Republican Steve LaTourrette who has held the seat since 1995. He ran unopposed in his primary, but in July decided to retire rather than run in November. He was replaced by David Joyce. Dale Blanchard won the Democratic primary. This is fairly safe Republican territory and Joyce should prevail.

In conclusion: Mitt Romney will take their 18 electoral votes in a close election while Sherrod Brown will defeat Mandel to remain in office. The current House delegation is 13-5 in favor of the GOP. Due to the loss of two seats as a result of the census, the new count will favor the GOP 11-5.

Running totals thus far: In the electoral vote count, we are now at 289-243. In the Senate, Republicans lead 50-48 in seats and in the House 237-194 seats.

Next: Last, but certainly not least, Iowa.