Ohio’s long-standing reputation as a swing state has brought more than 60 visits to the Buckeye State this year by Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are now locked in a heavily fought battle for Ohio, and both candidates continue to flood the airwaves with advertisements and make campaign stops on a near-weekly basis.
At stake in Ohio during the Nov. 6 presidential election are 18 Electoral College votes. A candidate needs at least 270 to win.
Most polls continue to show Obama just slightly ahead in Ohio, with results typically within the margin of error.
Justin Buchler, an associate professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said only a few states such as Ohio remain competitive because most voters tend to vote based on their political party affiliation.
States such as California and Texas tend to heavily vote Democratic and Republican, respectively, so the candidates won’t spend many resources there and instead concentrate on places up for grabs, like Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin, he said.
Buchler explained that’s why Ohio has received so much attention during this election and why it is so critical to both campaigns.
“Ohio has a relatively even balance between Democrats and Republicans and is one of the larger states that has that even balance, which means A, it is a swing state and B, it’s one of the more important swing states,” Buchler said.
In fact, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. President John F. Kennedy in 1960 was the last Democrat to win without carrying Ohio.
“We can construct plausible scenarios where Obama wins if he doesn’t win Ohio,” Buchler said. “It’s hard to construct a plausible scenario if Romney doesn’t win Ohio.”
Voters who tend not to cast a ballot based on their party affiliation usually make their decision based on their perception of the economy’s direction, with unemployment rates a less important factor than what most people think, Buchler said.
“Better predictors are growth in the economy measured in (Gross Domestic Product) and inflation-adjusted disposable income,” he said. “Those are the data most likely to swing the election.”
Matthew Battiato is director of the Lake County Job and Family Services Department. Lake County is the 11th largest in Ohio and is located about 20 miles east of Cleveland along Lake Erie.
Battiato, said that from 2009 through 2011, the agency had about 500 people per week visit for employment related services.
This year, the average has dropped down to about 400 a week, he said.
“To me, that’s an indication that the economy is getting better,” Battiato said. “Employers are hiring again, not at the level we had hoped at this point, but a decrease in people asking for employment and training issues.”
The hiring trend in Northeast Ohio is in the manufacturing and health care sectors, he said.
Small-business activity also appears on the increase in Ohio and in Northeast Ohio specifically, said Martin Gareau, director of public finance for the Lake County Port Authority.
Many businesses continue to wait to expand or begin new projects because they sense economic uncertainty, he said.
However, Gareau has seen a rise in the number of businesses inquiring about and eventually securing public financing through federal loan programs administered by the Port Authority, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program and through a county Revolving Loan Fund started recently by county commissioners.
Both programs come with benchmarks to create jobs based on the loan amounts and that helps benefit the local economy, he said.
“Last year, we did over $6 million in SBA loans and that resulted in about 117 jobs created in the county,” Gareau said. “It’s about job creation. We’re spurring investment — when there are jobs, there are payroll and taxes.”
The economy and the nation’s deficit are important issues for many Lake County, Ohio voters like Willoughby Hills resident Donald Pistoor, who said he won’t be voting for Obama.
“We’re going to go over a fiscal cliff if we don’t rein in the deficit spending,” he said.
Lindsey Mineff lives in Rocky River, a west side suburb of Cleveland, and she is concerned about women’s rights.
“I am a woman and I want them, I think Obama wants me to continue them and Romney does not,” she said. “Romney wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood, which I completely disagree with because it goes just beyond abortions, it’s breast exams and pap smears that are going to go away and we need those.”
Some Lake County voters remain undecided, like Mentor resident Barry McBride, who isn’t sure if he will vote for Obama or Romney.
“I think the most important issue to me is the growing divide between the very, very rich and everybody else,” McBride said. “I don’t see either candidate at this point doing very much about that.”