Ohio is the key to this Presidential election. Certainly Florida and Virginia are important (especially to Mitt Romney) but Ohio is the bellwether. For the last generation of Presidential elections Ohio has generally been very close to the national average. Quite simply, whoever wins Ohio will almost certainly win the Presidential election.
For the GOP, Ohio is vitally important. No Republican Presidential candidate has won the election without the Buckeye State in the last one hundred years and both candidates know it. Barack Obama has a distinct edge in that he only has to pick off one of the bigger swing states (Florida, Virginia or Ohio) to win. Mitt will probably have to win all three. If he does win the swings (plus one more, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado or Nevada) he’ll have enough Electoral Votes to become President.
Ohio has been within 1-2% of the national vote tally in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2004 and 2008. Each of those years the Buckeye State has voted for the winner. The most recent Rasmussen Reports poll of likely voters (released 9-12-12) showed the race to be almost a tie with Obama leading 47-46%, which closely reflects the national average. In 2004, George Bush beat John Kerry by 2% (118,000 votes out of approximately 2.6 million cast), a margin close enough that a recount was taken and several Democrats complained of fraud. However, the 1976 election was much closer, with Jimmy Carter winning by 11,000 votes out of approximately 4.1 million cast, (.27%), a margin so close that any number of factors could have changed the outcome. Had Ford won Ohio and one other state (Hawaii, along with several other states were one by an eyelash) Gerald Ford would have beaten Carter.
In 2000, Bush got 50.0% of the vote in Ohio to Al Gore’s 46.5%, which is only one of two elections in the last generation in which the national total wasn’t within 1-2%. However, if you add in Ralph Nader’s total in Ohio to Gore’s the Democrat would have probably ended up with over 49% of the vote and finished with 50,000 votes of George Bush. Local Democrats had begged the Gore campaign to put more time and effort into Ohio as they sensed a victory there, but Gore decided to spend more of his resources elsewhere and probably missed a decent chance at victory. John Kerry was determined not to make the same mistake and spent a lot of resources in the state, and increased the Democratic total by about 560,000 votes but George Bush increased his own share by 500,000 votes which proved to be the margin of victory in the state that had really proved to be ground zero for the election. Ohio was so close that George Bush actually campaigned there on Election Day, 2004, making his last stop there before the ballots were counted. Had Kerry won the state he would have won the Electoral College 272-266.
Obama has spent tons of cash in Ohio and has his team ready on the ground to contest the state, repeating his strategy that allowed him to finish 4.5% ahead of John McCain in 2008. He’s had a big head start as he’s been the certain Democratic nominee for months while Mitt Romney has been playing catch up for weeks now. Romney is only a couple points behind in a state that is slightly red. Independents who voted for Obama in 2008 are ready to turn against him but Romney still hasn’t made the case to them why they should, a trait that is shared by many non-partisan voters nationwide. Look for numerous campaign stops and blanket advertising by both camps as they prepare for the last 50 days of the race. The debates will make a huge difference and the GOTV effort by both sides will, in the end, probably help put the winner over the top.