Stark County always picks a presidential winner.
At least, that’s the theory.
But for the second time in the last three presidential elections, Stark may end up supporting the loser.
Stark voters went for Democrat Barack Obama four years ago, but they switched allegiance and supported Republican challenger Mitt Romney this year. Stark was only one of five counties to flip statewide. Erie, Lake, Monroe and Tuscarawas were the others, and they also went Republican.
Romney’s lead in Stark is a slim 644 votes — and there are more than 5,900 provisional and absentee ballots remaining to be examined, the county elections board said. Perhaps the county will ultimately swing back to Obama, but that won’t be known for at least 10 days when workers start tallying those votes.
William Cunion, associate professor of political science at University of Mount Union in Alliance, said he’s not surprised that Stark flipped. The Democrats put together a tremendous effort four years ago to get out the vote and went into areas of Canton that had never been canvassed before, he said.
This time, the Democratic enthusiasm, while still high, wasn’t as great, he said.
He also expected larger support for Romney in wealthier communities.
As for the county’s much-touted bellwether status, Cunion has been downplaying that for years and said it’s undeserved. Stark isn’t a microcosm of the United States, especially without a decent Latino population, he said.
“It is true that the county went to the winning candidate for a number of years but now has missed two out of the last three if it holds up,” Cunion said. “As bellwethers go, that’s not good.”
Since 1960, Stark voters picked the winning president every time except for twice — and perhaps now three times. In 1976, they chose Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter. And in 2004, they selected John Kerry over President George Bush.
Stark became a media darling following a 1996 New York Times story that declared: “As Stark goes, so does U.S.” Despite the missteps, the media still swoons over the community.
With more than 300,000 outstanding provisional and absentee ballots statewide, Romney so far has had a worse showing in Ohio than Sen. John McCain did four years ago, especially in urban areas.
For example, Romney picked up 15,405 fewer votes than McCain in Cuyahoga County, 10,545 fewer in Franklin County, 7,491 fewer in Montgomery County and 4,584 fewer in Summit County, according to unofficial results.
Statewide, he received 76,118 fewer votes than McCain. Meanwhile, Obama received 265,264 fewer votes than he did four years ago.
Of course, those gaps will narrow as provisional ballots are counted. Provisional ballots are votes cast when there is a question about a voter’s eligibility. Elections boards must determine whether the vote will count or not.
Obama holds Ohio
Stephen Brooks, associate director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, said exit polling indicated that Obama did better with white males in Ohio than in the rest of the country.
He attributed that to a combination of factors, including the auto bailout, which helped the state, and the fallout from the failed Republican-led Senate Bill 5 campaign last year aimed at collective bargaining for public employees.
The Obama campaign also never really left Ohio with its get-out-the-vote efforts and was “merciless in terms of making that happen,” Brooks said.
“Again, Ohio reflects the nation,” he said about the state’s overall importance in electing the president.
Obama easily cruised to victory in the Democrat-leaning Summit County.
But three Summit communities — Norton, Stow and Springfield Township — flipped from supporting Obama four years ago to voting Republican.
Romney also won Green, Hudson, New Franklin, Boston Heights, Clinton, Richfield, Silver Lake, Bath Township, Richfield Township and Sagamore Hills Township.
In other Akron-area counties, Romney won Medina and Wayne counties, while Obama won Portage County. Romney also picked up more voters in those counties than McCain did four years ago.
Obama won 17 counties this year; four years ago he won 22.
Statewide, the voter turnout was 68 percent, a slight dip from the 70 percent four years ago, according to unofficial numbers from the secretary of state.
In Summit County, the turnout was 71 percent.
In other Akron-area counties, the turnout was 71.68 percent in Medina, 68.91 percent in Portage, 68.86 percent in Stark and 64.13 percent in Wayne, the state said.
The highest turnout was in Highland County at 96.75 percent. The county, located east of Cincinnati, has 28,635 registered voters and 27,705 of them went to the polls, the state said.
The board couldn’t be reached for comment to verify that figure.
The state reported a 24 percent turnout in Miami County — by far the worst in Ohio. But a county Board of Elections worker said that was an error and turnout was actually 71 percent.
A state spokesman said there could be a data entry error at play.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.