Every four years, Ohio is dubbed a battleground state, one of a handful that will decide the presidential race.
Campaigns spend a lot of time and money here because Ohio’s demographics closely mirror the nation’s, which means the race is usually close.
The bonus is that the Electoral College is a state-by-state, winner-take-all system, which places emphasis on winning large, closely fought states such as Ohio.
Win here by one vote, and you get all 18 electoral votes.
The campaigns won’t bother with uncompetitive states, or dump everything into competitive states that have few electoral votes.
Within that relatively stable framework, there are plenty of variables that can affect the outcome. Here is a look at some that could tilt the Buckeye battleground.
The first is the Kasich factor. John Kasich, Ohio’s Republican governor, will be a tough act for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney to follow. Why? Kasich can’t resist talking about his accomplishments, especially with the economy.
In a recent visit to this newspaper, Kasich argued his administration has accomplished a “significant” turnaround. “This environment is working,” he said, although he added, “We’ve got a long way to go.”
This complicates Romney’s message that the economy is in a shambles, requiring the steady hand of an experienced business leader.
Actually, Kasich is making the same kind of argument that Obama has been making: I know things are difficult, but stick with me and things will keep getting better.
Of course, Kasich will counter that things would be even better in Ohio if it weren’t for Obama’s “job killing” policies and stifling regulations. Still, those policies include saving from bankruptcy Chrysler and General Motors, linchpins of Ohio’s economy.
How Ohioans sort out these economic messages is shaping up as the most decisive factor this year, with the cultural, religious and military issues George W. Bush used to get re-elected in 2004 slipping fast.
For Romney, the job is to find the right message to boost Republican turnout in rural and semi-rural areas of Ohio, as Bush did. For Obama, it is to boost turnout in urban areas, among younger voters and in the Appalachian region of the state.
Another variable will be the Citizens United decision, made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. The court’s ruling, and other federal court decisions, opened the door for the unlimited spending of the super PACs, fueled by contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. Ohioans are used to tough campaigns, but the super PACs are somewhat unpredictable, especially when wealthy, out-of-state individuals are involved.
So far, the super PACs, technically separate from the campaigns themselves, have been designated as the below-the-belt hitters, airing negative television ads.
The danger with attack ads is that they sometimes backfire in a spectacular way. In a tight race, that could mean the difference. The super PACs can also be expected to push negative material onto the Internet, adding another layer of unpredictability in the use of a medium that has been most effective in fundraising.
Ohio’s election laws, especially on provisional ballots, could cause chaos at the last minute. Ohio law says not to count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct or with errors on the application. Two recent federal court rulings say that such ballots should be counted if the mistakes are due to poll worker error. In a very close race, disputed provisional ballots could decide the election.
Also ripe for litigation is maneuvering by Republicans in the legislature to cut off in-person absentee voting on the last three days before Election Day. Republicans repealed a bill containing the cutoff, but argue that a later bill on military voting was amended to reinstate the cutoff. Democrats say they will fight to restore the three days of early voting.
It is also possible that Ohio will have the most crowded issues ballot since 1975. While some issues (a citizen-initiated statute banning dog auctions) won’t affect the presidential race, other issues could drive partisan turnout.
Democrats may continue to push for a referendum on House Bill 194, the Republican elections bill that was repealed, contending that the legislature can’t stop a vote of the people initiated by a petition drive.
Republicans are hoping anti-abortion and right-to-work amendments will boost their turnout. At this point, the issues would probably cancel each other out.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.