Every list of key states in presidential election includes Ohio
Road signs at the border of this Ohio suburb should read: “Welcome to Strongsville, ground zero of the 2012 presidential election.”
“The results of who wins this election run straight through the Main Streets of suburban Cleveland towns like Strongsville,” said Dave Paleologos, director of polling at Suffolk University in Boston.
As the campaigns of President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney head into their final eight days, the candidates and their running mates will focus their attention on a few states — New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida and Ohio.
When polls close on Nov. 6, Paleologos will look to Cleveland's suburb as the bellwether of who will win the White House.
Strongsville Mayor Tom Perciak says the town is home to a mix of blue- and white-collar families. Small manufacturers such as Fay Industries, whose steel service center supplies the military and other industries with metals and tools, co-exist with corporations such as Vitamix, a maker of blenders.
“I would say party affiliation is split evenly, with a huge independent block of voters who normally tend to vote Republican rather than Democrat,” Perciak said.
The race now becomes a mathematical equation to calculate which states might provide the necessary 270 Electoral College votes to win, said Bert Rockman, a Purdue University political science professor.
Ohio and Colorado have emerged as the potential deciders, Paleologos said.
“Keep an eye in Colorado, in suburban Denver, in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties,” he added.
Most states vote either reliably Democrat, such as New York, or reliably Republican, such as South Carolina, leading nominees to those whose electorates can swing either way. Two big prizes, Florida and North Carolina with a combined 44 electoral votes, are leaning toward Romney, polling shows. Five others Obama needs — Virginia, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, with 38 electoral votes — are among those too close to call.
During the past week, Obama's lead was narrowing among states considered solid or leaning toward one candidate or the other, said Jeff Brauer, an electoral expert at Keystone College in Towanda.
“This has been playing out with Obama having roughly 230 to 240 electoral votes purportedly in the bag, to Romney's 190 to 200,” he said.
Though the president led in Ohio, which every president since 1964 has won, Romney narrowed the race to a tie late last week in Suffolk University's poll.
With Florida and North Carolina trending toward Romney, the president needs Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico to make up those combined 44 electoral votes, said Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the University of Virginia.
“Romney has to win Ohio or Wisconsin; Obama needs to win both,” Kondik said.
Some experts reduce the list of states in play to seven — Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida and Ohio — but every list includes Ohio.
Those states will earn the money and attention from the candidates and surrogates who include Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, said Brauer.
“We saw some of this pandering in the final debate, with the focus on the Navy directed towards Virginia and the focus on Israel directed towards Florida,” he said.
The campaigns spent $177 million in Ohio and $174 million in Florida, Brauer said, noting: “So far it looks like Ohio is ‘that state' once again. ... And, of course, no Republican has won without Ohio.”
Like Paleologos, Brauer points to Colorado as the potential decider. Obama visited Colorado 11 times this year and Romney held his largest event in suburban Denver at Red Rock Amphitheater, drawing more than 10,000 people, according to news reports.
“Since it is important, in most winning scenarios, for both Romney and Obama, it could ... trump Ohio as the pivotal state of the 2012 election,” Brauer said.
Obama's most likely path to victory is through Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. If he wins all three, the election essentially would be over, said Brauer. “Replacing Wisconsin or Iowa with Colorado also works,” he said.
The key for Romney, Brauer said, “is to sweep the three southern swing states — each of which Obama won in 2008 — Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina.” If he secured those combined 57 electoral votes, he would need “a couple of the other swing states to achieve victory. Obviously, Ohio would be very helpful but this is also an instance where Colorado could be key.”
Even states the Obama campaign once counted on, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, might become battlegrounds, said Kondik. Polling in those states shows that Romney has cut Obama's lead in half from about a month ago.
On a recent call with reporters, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod was adamant when asked about Minnesota and Pennsylvania. “Will we win some states by the same margins as last time? No. But in about every case in those battleground states, you'll find conflicting polls,” Axelrod said.
Because the president's job approval rating has not risen above 50 percent, Curt Nichols believes the economy remains the issue influencing most Americans.
“Blue-collar voters in the Midwest likely will decide this election,” said Nichols, a political science professor at Baylor University in Texas
In “sleeper” states such as Pennsylvania, Nichols said, “most poll results are still calculated using turnout projections that may be too favorable to Obama. If the 2012 electorate does not turn out like it did in 2008, most polls will overestimate Obama's percentage of the two-party vote by 2 or 3 points.”
Undecided voters typically break against the incumbent in the final days of a race, he said.
“So, if three days before the election an accurate poll says the candidates are tied 48-48,” Nichols said, “you can expect that the vote will be closer to 52-48 for the challenger, rather than 50-50.”
In Strongsville, neighborhood strolls reveal more yard signs for Romney, Perciak said.
“The general consensus I have gotten from townspeople who voted for Obama in 2008 is disappointment in his performance and a growing respect for Romney,” he said. “That is coming from Democrats, independents and Republican voters,” he said.
Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com.