Canton Repository

Nov. 4, 2004

Bush makes inroads in rural, suburban areas of Ohio

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — President Bush eked out a victory in Ohio by boosting turnout in dozens of majority Republican counties and maintaining his hold on economically depressed, traditionally Democratic areas in the Appalachian region of the state.

A ballot proposal to prohibit gay marriage, which Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved, also may have helped Bush, especially in culturally conservative regions of the state.

No state experienced a more pitched battle for votes than Ohio, which both Bush and Kerry viewed as the key to victory.

The candidates and their running mates visited the state dozens of times, while their campaigns launched unprecedented efforts to register and turn out voters. The campaigns and outside groups also blanketed the state with television advertising.

Bush’s capture of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes put him over the top, effectively winning the election.

In Ohio, Bush gathered 2,796,147 votes, or 51 percent of the total, according to unofficial returns. Kerry had 2,659,664 votes, or 48.5 percent.

While Kerry was successful in generating a huge turnout in big cities such as Cleveland and Columbus, it wasn’t enough to offset Bush’s increases in suburban and rural areas.

“Our collar counties around the urban counties and 57 small- and medium-sized counties carried the day in Ohio,” said state GOP Chairman Robert Bennett. “That was the big thing that was different.”

Bush won 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties, the same number as four years ago.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dennis White agreed with Bennett’s analysis.

“Our big counties did a great job of increasing the vote” for Kerry, White said. “But Bob Bennett and the Republican Party did an extremely good job in rural counties, and we need to go out there and work on rural counties.”

Observers credit Bush’s opposition to abortion, gay marriage and gun control for firing up supporters and preserving his support in Appalachia, the most economically depressed region of the state.

“A lot of it was the cultural issues, quite candidly,” Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Cedarville, said. “There’s just no other way to explain it anecdotally or statistically.”

In the past, the southeast counties have swung back and forth between presidential candidates. Bush carried most of Appalachia in 2000, but in the previous two elections, the region voted for Bill Clinton.

White credited the gay marriage ballot initiative with increasing turnout among Bush supporters.

“They come out because they truly have deep and strong feelings for those issues,” he said. “That was part of their strategy. It was a successful strategy.”

Kerry secured a remarkable 217,638 vote surplus in the Democratic stronghold of Cuyahoga County, up from Gore’s 166,098 margin. And in Franklin County, where the state capitol of Columbus is located, Kerry’s margin was 41,377 votes, a tenfold increase over Gore’s 4,156 margin.

He also drew a larger share of the vote in Summit County than Gore did.

The president, however, increased his margins in dozens of suburban and rural counties across the state.

For example, in Butler County, north of Cincinnati, he won 52,550 more votes than Kerry, surpassing his 40,197 margin over Gore. In Licking County, east of Columbus, Bush had a margin of 18,742 votes, up from 13,984 in 2000.

Bush managed to capture the majority of votes in every county where he won four years ago except for Stark County, which preferred Kerry by 1.3 percentage points, based on unofficial results that could change after provisional ballots are counted.

Stark County has had the reputation of a bellwether, or indicator of how the rest of the state and nation votes in presidential elections.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, believes that economic fears in the county gave Kerry an advantage there.

“I think probably the economic issue played heavily in Stark but not as much perhaps nationwide,” he said.

Bush carried one county where he did not win four years ago — Clark County. Both Kerry and Bush campaigned in the county, which had voted for Democrats since Clinton was first elected in 1992.