President Barack Obama rode the federal auto bailout and an improving state economy to win Ohio, a state both sides fought to win for its potential to decide the U.S. presidential race.
Obama, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and their running mates made dozens of campaign visits to Ohio this year, including stops by both Romney and Vice President Joe Biden in Cleveland on Election Day. It would take 77 days to watch the 221,595 ads aired in Ohio back to back from April 4 through Nov. 4, the most of any state, according to data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG.
With 100 percent of Ohio’s precincts reporting unofficial results, Obama had 50.2 percent of the vote to Romney’s 48.2 percent, according to the Ohio Secretary of State.
It was the 13th straight presidential election in which Ohio has picked the winner. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio, and Democrats argued they could ensure Obama’s re-election by delivering the Buckeye State because Romney couldn’t reach the 270 electoral votes needed without Ohio’s 18 votes.
“Ohio is at the tip of the spear, and the world and the nation knows that Ohio is the firewall for Barack Obama,” former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland said during a speech introducing Obama in suburban Columbus on Nov. 2.
Throughout the campaign, Obama emphasized the 2009 federal bailout of the auto industry, which Romney opposed. Ohio has the second-highest total automotive industry employment after Michigan, with almost 850,000 jobs from manufacturing, parts and dealers, according to an April 2010 report by the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The industry accounts for 4 percent of Ohio’s jobs, and since 2009, the start of Obama’s bailout initiatives, auto-related jobs have increased by 6.1 percent, or 11,100 jobs in Ohio, according to Bloomberg Government.
That has helped keep the state’s unemployment rate below the national average, the analysis concluded. In September, the jobless rate in the Buckeye State was 7 percent compared with the U.S. rate of 7.8 percent that month.
“I knew betting on American workers was the right thing to do, betting on American ingenuity and know-how was the right thing to do,” Obama said during a Nov. 1 rally in Hilliard. “That paid off.”
The auto bailout issue helped Obama in Ohio because the differences between the candidates were so plain, and Romney never really had a good response, said Aaron Pickrell, a senior adviser for the president’s Ohio campaign.
“It’s unique in presidential politics to have an issue that is such a clear, stark contrast between the candidates, especially on a state level,” Pickrell said in an interview.
Romney sought to blunt Obama’s support on the bailout issue by airing television and radio ads in the final days of the campaign suggesting that Chrysler Group LLC, following the auto bailout, expanded Jeep production plants in China at the expense of jobs in the state.
Chrysler has said the expansion won’t shift jobs from the U.S. Obama portrayed the ads as a trust issue, saying, “You don’t scare hard-working Americans trying to scare up some votes.”
The auto bailout was “at the top of the list of the various issues,” that helped Obama in Ohio, and for Romney, the China ads were “the final nail in his political coffin,” Strickland said. Former President Bill Clinton also pointed to the ads during campaign appearances in Ohio, saying Nov. 1 in Chillicothe that “I’d rather have a president who governs on facts.”
Ohio Republican Chairman Robert Bennett said it appears the race was lost by the vote in northern Ohio and areas with a significant auto-industry presence, and that in hindsight, Romney should have done more sooner to defend his position on the issue.
Bennett also said that, while it would not have changed the outcome of the U.S. race, he thinks Romney would have won Ohio had he selected U.S. Senator Rob Portman as his running mate, and not U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a state that Romney also lost.
“It would have made a difference,” Bennett said in a telephone interview.
Even so, Pickrell said Romney’s message that the economy has faltered under Obama didn’t resonate with Ohio voters because Governor John Kasich, a first-term Republican, said repeatedly in public appearances that the state’s economy was getting better. Kasich said it was because of his administration’s policies such as lower taxes and business-friendly regulations, and in spite of “headwinds” from Obama’s policies.
“Kasich was saying the same thing that the president’s been saying, that the economy’s improving,” Pickrell said. “We disagree about who gets more credit for it, but Romney’s never had the ability to come in here and sort of lay out the economic doom and gloom.”
‘Heart and Soul’
Kasich congratulated Obama in a statement and said he was disappointed in the outcome and sad for Romney, who “poured his heart and soul” into the race.
“Governor Romney’s ideas are sound and the ones we need to pursue in order to get Ohio and the nation moving again,” Kasich said in the statement. “In the coming months, I hope the president and Congress can come together behind the kinds of jobs-friendly ideas we so desperately need.”
Obama carried Ohio in 2008 with 51.5 percent of the vote over Republican John McCain, and this year’s campaign didn’t deviate much from the winning strategy of four years ago, said Pickrell. That included focusing on all 88 Ohio counties to maximize Democratic votes.
While Obama improved his vote percentage from 2008 in only 19 of the state’s 88 counties, he carried key swing counties including Hamilton County and in central Ohio. Obama also limited Romney’s gains in Cuyahoga, the state’s most populous county, and in Republican southwest Ohio and rural areas, unofficial vote totals show.
Obama’s campaign also credited its grassroots operation in Ohio, which didn’t completely shut down after his 2008 win. The president had 131 campaign offices in the state compared with 40 for Romney’s campaign, which had vowed to make up for the differences in resources with enthusiasm among volunteers.
After the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature limited the hours for early voting, the Obama campaign won a lawsuit that went to the U.S. Supreme Court to restore in-person absentee voting on the final three days before the election.
There were at least 1.8 million absentee votes cast in Ohio before the election, the most in state history, and Obama won about 55 percent of them, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The race was reminiscent of 2004, when incumbent Republican President George W. Bush narrowly won Ohio and re-election, said John Green, a political-science professor at the University of Akron. The Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort delivered, and an improving Ohio economy, along with the bailout issue, were too much for Romney to overcome, Green said.
“It was something Governor Romney was never able to deal with successfully,” Green said in a telephone interview.
In Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown won re-election to a second term, defeating Republican challenger Josh Mandel in the nation’s costliest Senate campaign.
The race, which both sides said would be critical for determining which party controls the U.S. Senate, attracted millions of dollars in outside spending. Brown had said the $30 million spent against him was the most in any Senate contest and that “this would not even be a race” except for that spending.
“Today in Ohio, in the middle of America, the middle class won,” Brown said in Columbus. “We fought back against secretive, out-of-state forces that wanted to impose their will upon our state.”
Outside groups began airing television ads last November and continued through Election Day. They included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit group founded with help from Republican strategist Karl Rove, as well as the Washington-based Majority PAC, which supports Democratic senators and candidates.
Brown, 59, a former U.S. House member elected to the Senate in 2006, emphasized his support of the auto bailout, which Mandel opposed. He portrayed Mandel as a self-serving politician who supports “trickle-down” economics.
Mandel, a youthful-looking 35-year-old state treasurer and former U.S. Marine who joked in speeches that he hopes to be shaving when he’s 36, portrayed Brown as a “ultraliberal, hyper-partisan” who has stayed too long in a Congress that needs change.
In Ohio’s U.S. House races, Republicans emerged with a 12-4 advantage in new districts redrawn after Ohio lost two seats following the 2010 Census.
In one of the state’s most competitive races, U.S. Representative Jim Renacci, a Republican, defeated fellow Representative Betty Sutton, a Democrat, after they were both put in the newly drawn 16th District in northeast Ohio, according to the Associated Press. It was one of only two U.S. races pitting incumbents from both parties.
In the sprawling 6th District that stretches along the Ohio River in Southeast Ohio, Republican Representative Bill Johnson defeated Democratic challenger Charlie Wilson in a rematch from their 2010 race, according to the Associated Press.
Democrat Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House, won a 16th term by defeating Republican Samuel J. Wurzelbacher in the new 9th District. He gained fame as Joe the Plumber in 2008 when his “spread the wealth” exchange with then-candidate Barack Obama was caught on tape.
In March’s Democratic primary, Kaptur defeated Dennis Kucinich, her congressional colleague, after they were put in the same district.