Springfield State Journal Register

September 7, 2004

Ohio's a kingmaker
Few have become president without winning it


Illinois is expected to be on the sidelines of the presidential campaign this year, while the Bush and Kerry campaigns concentrate on 12 to 16 other states where the electoral vote is still considered up for grabs.

This is third in a series taking a look at the campaigns being waged in six key battleground states.

WASHINGTON - The presidential race cannot get much closer than it is in Ohio, a state with a bundle of electoral votes and a tradition of mirroring the national mood.

President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry were tied with 46 percent each in a late-August poll done for the Columbus Dispatch. Independent consumer activist Ralph Nader drew 2 percent, while just 6 percent were undecided.

"It's really a dead heat and too close to call at this point," said Rick Farmer, a political science professor at the University of Akron. A previous poll showed Bush slightly ahead, while two earlier surveys gave Kerry a tiny edge.

Although Republicans control state government and dominate Ohio's congressional delegation, Democrats see opportunity in the state's lagging economic recovery.

Polls have shown the economy is the most important issue for Ohio voters, followed by the war in Iraq.

With the race so close across the nation, Ohio's 20 electoral votes could swing the election. The third most populous battleground state after Florida and Pennsylvania, Ohio is a major manufacturing and farming region.

As evidence of its importance, the Bush and Kerry campaigns and independent groups collectively have aired more television ads in Ohio than anywhere else in the nation since late July.

"Ads can be a window into the war room," said Ken Goldstein, director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, which has been monitoring campaign advertising. "While many states are still in play, Ohio continues to be the eye of the political storm."

The project found that Kerry has enjoyed the advantage in the media blitz as a result of ads contributed by independent groups.

Kerry is pinning his Ohio hopes on exploiting economic dissatisfaction. The state has lost 229,600 jobs since Bush took office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"That's going to be the heart and soul of the campaign," said Tad Devine, a top strategist for the Massachusetts senator.

"Kerry has a real economic plan that will impact the state (while) Bush has policies like outsourcing ... which have hurt the state enormously," he said.

In his frequent visits to Ohio, Bush has stressed his efforts to defend the nation from terrorism. Acknowledging the pain of economic uncertainty, the president has credited his tax cuts and other business-friendly policies for helping the state recover from the 2001 recession.

The state has 19,700 more jobs as of July, the latest figures available, than it did last December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

"Because of his policies we have seen the economy not only survive and endure those challenges but prosper, and there is no question but that we are pointed in the right direction with the jobs numbers and everything from homeownership to inflation," said Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot, a former Montana governor.

Ohio has become one of the most frequent campaign stops for Bush, Kerry and their surrogates, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Kerry's running mate John Edwards, Cabinet officials and Democratic top dogs.

As of Saturday, Bush had visited the state 24 times since he was elected, with 12 of those visits this year. Kerry has campaigned in the state for 24 days this year and planned another visit on Labor Day.

Meanwhile, dozens of independent groups have converged on the state in an unprecedented effort to register voters and get out the vote. The majority of the groups, called 527s after the tax code section that governs political committees, oppose Bush.

"We've never seen anything like that," Farmer said. "There are people out knocking on doors every day looking for unregistered Kerry supporters and registering them to vote."

America Coming Together, one of the largest of the anti-Bush groups, spent $1.1 million to pay workers in Ohio as of April, more than in any other state, according to the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity.

The results of the last presidential election alone are enough to justify the attention Ohio is receiving.

In the closing days of the 2000 campaign, Vice President Al Gore pulled his advertising after polls showed Bush with a double-digit lead in the state.

When the votes were counted, Bush carried Ohio by just 3.6 percentage points.

Since then, Democrats have wondered whether Gore could have won the presidency if he hadn't given up on Ohio.

Historically, the state is a must-win for Republican presidential candidates.

No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Only two Democrats, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, were elected president without carrying the state.

Ohio stands out among other battleground states as the top advertising target.

The state has three of the four media markets - Toledo, Cleveland and Cincinnati - that have seen the highest volume of campaign advertising in the nation, the Wisconsin Advertising Project said. Two other Ohio markets - Columbus and Youngstown - are among the top 10 markets in the campaign.