The Keys to Ohio: Five Counties that Could Decide the Presidency

There are five counties that hold the key to winning Ohio -- and with it the White House.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Mitt Romney waves to supporters during a campaign rally at Worthington Industries on Oct. 25, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio 

Don’t begrudge Ohio its role as the nation’s premier presidential bellwether. For one thing, it’s no fun, as Ohioans themselves will tell you. (Spare a thought for the more than 90% of voters who have long since made up their minds, yet were forced to endure some 60,000 ads over the past month  — enough for 80 straight days of viewing, if that sort of torture were your thing.) And if one state must hold the fate of the nation in its hands, Ohio is as good a place as any. Perhaps no state better encapsulates the character of the country — its demographic diversity, its classic tensions between progressive cities and rural conservatism.

The local adage is that there are “five Ohios,” from the swath of Democratic territory in the northeast to the stretch of southwest Ohio that skews as conservative as the Deep South. As in the rest of the U.S., the presidential candidates are contesting the Buckeye State along familiar battle lines, with Barack Obama hoping to bank enough votes from urban population centers to offset the rest of the state’s conservative inclinations. Though his closing argument is peppered with paeans to bipartisanship, Mitt Romney has made many of his recent campaign stops in conservative enclaves where he hopes to spike turnout. On Sunday, as Hurricane Sandy loomed menacingly off the Atlantic Coast, Romney canceled a planned swing through Virginia to join running mate Paul Ryan on a trip across Ohio, campaigning in Celina, Findlay and Marion — each of which sided with John McCain four years ago.

(MORE: In Ohio, China Is a Potent Campaign Weapon)

Within the five Ohios, there are five counties in particular that hold the key to winning the state — and with it the White House. Not all are swing counties. But they are the linchpins of the state that is as likely to determine the election on Nov. 6 as the other 49 put together:

Cuyahoga County

The largest county in Ohio, Cuyahoga is home to more than 10% of the state’s population. It is a Democratic stronghold, home to rusting manufacturing hubs like Cleveland. In 2008, Barack Obama won Cuyahoga County by 258,000 votes, more than his final margin statewide. Cuyahoga is Obama’s bulwark against the remainder of the state’s conservative inclinations, and he has lavished attention on it accordingly, visiting the area multiple times in October to promote early voting. In this union-heavy stretch of the state, Obama’s auto bailout is a particularly potent weapon.

No Republican has won Cuyahoga County since Nixon, and Mitt Romney is unlikely to be be the exception. But his aides profess confidence that they can hold down the President’s margin of victory by convincing union members that Obama has capitulated to China, thus contributing to the exodus of manufacturing jobs. They are targeting tony Cleveland suburbs like Rocky River as a source of potential gains, and note that voter registration in Cuyahoga is down. If Romney can mitigate the damage here, he vastly improves his chances of capturing the state.

(PHOTOS: Political Pictures of the Week, Oct. 19-25)

Franklin County

Home to Columbus, this central Ohio county is more affluent, more educated, and more politically moderate than the rest of the state. The economy is relatively strong, thanks to the two recession-proof industries (the nation’s largest university, and state government) and nascent financial-services and medical sectors. The Columbus media market is sprawling, reaching nearly a fourth of the state’s 88 counties, but Franklin is the prize. While the city tips Democratic, the suburbs lean Republican. Buoyed by young voters and suburban women, Obama won Franklin by 116,000 votes in 2008, more than twice Kerry’s margin of victory. Both campaigns are clawing for every vote they can muster here. On Thursday, Romney swept in for a rally at a steel-manufacturing factory just north of Columbus, not far from his statewide headquarters.

Hamilton County

Former Governor John Gilligan once quipped that Hamilton County, nestled at the southwestern fringe of the state abutting Kentucky, was the kind of place where voters “hunt Democrats with dogs for sport.”  Until 2008, Hamilton County had gone Democratic in a presidential race just four times in 100 years. That changed when Obama rode increased African-American turnout to a 30,000 vote victory. But Republicans have designs on snatching it back, and though the county’s demographics are changing, they are still on the GOP’s side. Ringed by some of the reddest counties in the state, Hamilton houses a strong network of social-conservative activists as well as affluent white-collar voters who work at Fortune 500 companies like Proctor & Gamble. Like Franklin County, Hamilton shapes up as a battle between conservative suburbs and a Democratic urban center, though Cincinnati is one of the most conservative metro areas in the Midwest. Romney’s secret weapon here is Rob Portman, Ohio’s junior Senator and a top Republican surrogate who hails from Cincinnati.

(MORE: Election Nightmare Scenarios: What Could Happen on Nov. 7?)

Stark County 

The Republican ticket spent Friday night rallying at a high-school baseball field in North Canton. It’s not hard to figure out why: Stark has sided with the winner in 10 of the last 12 presidential elections, and in nine of those races, the victor’s margin has been within two points of his statewide share of the vote. “If a candidate is doing well very here, that tends to reflect the rest of the state,” says Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett. Obama eked out a victory here in 2008; Bush did the same four years before. Like much of the state, Stark County is packed with white, working-class voters — a cohort that has bedeviled Obama this election cycle.

But the President’s support has proved resilient with this group in Ohio for two reasons. First, the auto bailout has insulated many communities from the depths of the recession. (Unemployment in Stark County sits at 6.5%, below the national average.) And secondly, Democrats have been particularly successful in Ohio at painting Romney as a rapacious plutocrat out of synch with white, working-class values. “If they’ve got issues with the President,” says Tim Burga, president of the AFL-CIO in Ohio, “they’ve got to have an alternative. They know Mitt Romney does not share their values. He’s not one of us.” TIME’s poll of Ohio last week showed the President nabbing 43% of white voters, several points higher than he has performed in national surveys.

Montgomery County 

Last week Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made a joint appearance in Dayton, the biggest city in this swing county surrounded by a sea of red. Obama won Montgomery with 52% of the vote in 2008, but Republicans say they expect to make gains by campaigning against potential looming defense cuts. Montgomery County is home to Wright-Patterson Air Force base, the largest in the world and the biggest employer in Ohio, and Romney’s team has claimed Obama’s policies will cost the base some 450 jobs. When the two candidates sparred in their foreign-policy debate over the origins of the so-called “sequestration” agreement that could result in cuts to the U.S. military, they were squarely targeting active-duty service members and contractors who have flocked here.

MORE: Why Ohio Will Decide the Presidential Election

Correction: This story originally misstated the location of Romney’s Friday night rally. It was in North Canton, not Canton. It also inaccurately said former Ohio Governor John Gilligan was a Republican. 

34 comments
hotincleveland
hotincleveland

Good assessment. "Procter & Gamble" is misspelled, however.

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

Chuyahoga cannot be branded a Democrat County because it has voted for Nixon. Moreover, Cuyahogans are conservatives and strong Christians. In view of the changed circumstances they will definitely prefer Romney this time. • In sharp contrast to Obama’s attitude to prayer, Romney and Ryan have stressed the need for prayer in the major crisis caused by Sandy.. Prayer of the Founding Fathers made America great.• April 2008 – Obama spoke disrespectfully of Christians, saying they “cling to guns or religion” and have an “antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”• April 2009 – When speaking at Georgetown University, Obama ordered that a monogram symbolizing Jesus’ name be covered when he is making his speech.• May 2009 – Obama declined to host services for the National Prayer Day (a day established by federal law) at the White House• April 2 November 2011 – Obama opposed inclusion of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous D-Day Prayer in the WWII Memorial.• At the same time, Obama marks every Muslim holiday with a speech. Romney has requested all to remain in prayer during the assault of Hurricane Sandy. 

LidiaKirov
LidiaKirov

So the GOP wants a small Government !!Use the following chart below to help you know which services to avoid so you do not support, even accidently, the Current Socialist Marxist regime out to destroy us ;Aid to families with dependant children? Forget about it.Do not call for an ambulance, the fire department or any other emergency services to include the hospitals or the police.Do not expect convicted felons to remain off the streets as you will no longer be able to enjoy the security of jails and prisons or probation and parole officers.Do not use any medical services licensed through the state or federal government.Do not use Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or State Supplemental Income.Do not use the courts, court appointed attorneys, attorneys licensed through the state.Do not worry about voting.Don’t bother expecting anymore benefits from Homeland Security.Don’t look for National Guard or any other disaster relief agencies and services.Don’t worry about public schools as they go away as well.Don’t bother observing traffic signs, lights, streetlights, lane designations…. that is if you can find any roads that were not paid through with government funds.Don’t bother sending your children to public schools or asking for government sponsored student loans or grants.Don’t expect anymore border security.Don’t look for any protection or assistance from the US Armed Services to include rescue services from the Coast Guard.Don’t use any roadways or bridges paid for through government programs.Don’t use public parks or recreation areas such as playgrounds or sports fields/courts.Fire Rescue and Services – nope! Go ahead and removed them from the list of unnecessary services you are currently being forced to pay for.Forget about any safety codes including those governing building, food or medicines just to name a few.Forget about calling the local police or sheriff’s department in an emergency or when your house is being robbed.Forget about clean air and water standards as any nutritional standards.Forget about public service announcements or the American Geological Survey or the National Weather Service.Forget about any government sponsored or funded utility services to include waste management, electricity, water purification.Getting any military benefits? Not anymore.Hope you are not in an automobile accident with an unlicensed or uninsured motorist as you cannot avail yourself of the court system and cannot compel them to have insurance or pay you otherwise.Illegal immigrant get your job? Don’t bother calling Immigration.Need gas for your car? Don’t bother.Need the bomb squad? Don’t bother calling – they are part of the police departments you are no longer supporting.No longer apply for a driver’s license as they are issued and administered through the government, however it really doesn’t matter as you will no longer be using roads anyway.No longer plan on using Medicare or Medicaid.No longer visit National Parks, Wildlife Reserves or National Forests, make an appointment with EXXON instead.Public restrooms – no problem. They no longer exist.Vouchers? Forget them too.Want a job? That is going to be hard to get without a government issued I.D., proof of residency or a social security number.Want to get married so you can include your spouse on your insurance plan or retirement? Forget about it, the government issues the license. You can forget about adopting any children as well.Want to visit another country? Don’t bother unless you know a way around the border stop which is patrolled by the government and don’t forget you no longer can get a passport any more.You need to worry about clean air or water once the commie EPA is shut down.You no longer have to be bothered with paved roads, highways, interstate freeways or public bridges.You won’t have to worry about those public waste service employees making all that noise picking up your garbage. Those operations will be shut down once your tax dollars quit coming.Your child got molested? Don’t bother calling Child Protective Services.

sh5105
sh5105

Uh, Youngstown and Akron are in Mahoning and Summit counties, not Cuyahoga

outsider
outsider

Of course, that obstruction will probably persist even if Obama wins the popular vote. If modern political history has taught us anything, it’s that the Republican base doesn’t believe any Democratic victory is legitimate, and always finds a way to treat a Democratic president as a usurper. A favorite GOP talking point during Bill Clinton’s first term was that he’d only been elected by 43 percent of the country. The implication was that Clinton wouldn’t have won in 1992 without the presence of independent Ross Perot – a complete and total misreading of the ’92 election. In his first two years as president, Clinton faced the same unanimous opposition that Obama has dealt with. And even when Clinton was reelected in 1996, Republican delighted in pointing out that he’d done so without breaking 50 percent of the national popular vote (even though their own candidate barely cracked 40). Or consider Obama’s ’08 victory, won with a higher share of the popular vote by any Democrat since LBJ. It meant little to the right, which fixated on trumped up claims of mass voter fraud.

Losing the popular vote is a headache Obama would obviously prefer to avoid, if for no other reason than the sake of his legacy. But from a practical standpoint, it really doesn’t matter how he wins. He’s not going to get much credit for it from the other side.

http://www.salon.com/2012/10/29/so_what_if_obama_loses_the_popular_vote/

JohnHiggins
JohnHiggins

Stark County voted narrowly for Kerry, not Bush in 2004. Bush narrowly won the state, however, and the election.

DarleneRitterGoodfellow
DarleneRitterGoodfellow

Why is the media pretending this race is so close? The electoral math is just not there for Romney, he would have to run the table in swing states and that is looking more and more unlikely by the day, quit pretending it's a toss up, it's not.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Why would we want to put back in power a party that has done everything possible to obstruct efforts to restart our economy after crashing it in the first place? That started and forgot two pay for two wars in Central Asia and the Middle East? That thinks women should be forced to have kids born out of rape and incest? And that has just blocked the latest bill to help combat veterans reintegrate into the work force?

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

The "key" for Obama is hoping Sandy's strong enough to shut Ohio down for the next two weeks.  Otherwise he's done as President of the United States of America.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Speaking of campaign advertising, I'm puzzled as to why the Dems have not made more use of the GOP ugliness that was on display during the  Republican Primaries this past spring.

  • Cheering Perry's prison execution count
  • Booing a gay soldier
  • Audience members shouting "Let him die!" to the question of "What if someone without insurance gets sick?"

Certainly the recent "rape-gaffes" merit play time. But, I think the Dems are missing an opportunity to bring about a generational change in the electorate.

MrObvious
MrObvious

Anyone living in Ohio and working in the car industry that votes for Romney should be completely ignored after the election if the biatch about the continued outsourcing and dismantling of our manufacturing industry.

hotincleveland
hotincleveland

@AbrahamYeshuratnam Oh my goodness, what a joke. Cuyahoga isn't Democratic just because it's voted for Nixon? Cuyahogans are conservatives? Not large numbers of them, they're not. Also, where on earth do you get this nonsense information that Obama is somehow "anti-prayer," or that anybody even cares? Your whole post is a desperate attempt to persuade outsiders that a) Obama is an anti-Christian Muslim and b) that Cuyahoga County is crammed with deeply conservative Christians who will not vote for this "anti-Christian Muslim." Very amateurish. I would wager most Cuyahoga County residents know that Obama is a Christian who simply understands the importance of the separation of church and state, and who knows that America is not just for Christians and should not be run for the benefit of Christians alone.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@AbrahamYeshuratnam Romney believes in a planet where his god resides. Islam has more in common with the mainstream Christian religion than Mormonism does.

hotincleveland
hotincleveland

@sh5105 Where does the article claim that Youngstown and Akron are in Cuyahoga County? It doesn't. All it appears to be saying is that the five counties listed here are likely to be more influential on the Ohio vote than Mahoning and Summit.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

@DarleneRitterGoodfellow I couldn't agree more.  All I can think is that its about ratings and revenue for advertising.  They've completely given Romney a pass on morphing into yet another version of himself, not to mention the fact that his numbers don't add up on the budget and the job creation he's promising is already forecast to happen without anyone doing anything.  Romney has little chance of winning and the chance he has is a media creation.

hotincleveland
hotincleveland

@LiberalLies2012 Interestingly, you fail to mention, as does the conservative Weekly Standard, that this poll has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. A candidate that has a 52-percent favorability rating over an opponent with a 51-percent rating has no "majority" at all with that kind of margin of error. Also, if you look more deeply at the results, Obama polls considerably better than Romney in the battleground states--so much as to beat the margin of error.

outsider
outsider

@LiberalLies2012 

polling from Friday:

St. Cloud State  - Obama up by 8

Mason Dixon - Obama up by 3

Rasmussen - Romney up by 6

Callfire - Obama up by 4

University of Cinci / Ohio poll - Tie

Phili Inquirer Obama up by 6

Gravis Marketing - Tie

Wash Post - Obama up by 4. 

Nate has Obama up to 74.6% to win (to Romney's 25.4%), and has Obama taking 296.6 Electoral votes (to Romney's 241.4)

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/oct-27-minnesota-moonlights-as-swing-state-but-ohio-and-virginia-are-more-crucial/

Looking on RCP - the last update was last Monday. 

hotincleveland
hotincleveland

@LiberalLies2012 Oh my goodness, what a laugh. Ohio's been early voting for weeks, and I have a feeling that the majority of the voting has not been for Romney.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@LiberalLies2012 

What an idiotic thing to say. NO ONE is hoping for Sandy to do anything to this election. Unlike you unhinged fringe righties people on the left do not hope for disruption or people getting hurt in the wake of any natural disaster in order to keep power.

And that's why you're a nutter and we're not.

NP042
NP042

@LiberalLies2012

See, there's the difference;  non-far-righties (sane people) don't hope for bad things to happen to others because it might benefit them in some way.  

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout How many time can you post the same lie over and over again. The only scandal around Benghazi is the treason committed by Darrel Issa.

nhautamaki
nhautamaki

Yes it's getting pathetic how relentlessly the media pushes the 'close race' storyline no matter what the actual facts are.  When was the last time the media came to a consensus pick of a clear likely winner of a presidential election?  Certainly not within my lifetime.  Were they calling the Reagan blowout of 1980 too close to call too?

ahandout
ahandout

@MrObvious @NP042 Ah the free speech got to you, didn't Mr O.  You like Barry want to shut people up.  That's why Barry blamed the video.  Can't have Muslims with hurt religious feelings.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@NP042

I'm always quick to remind people about the fact that there's no obligation for privately owned blogs to give unmoderated 'free speech' to anyone.

But what I'm trying to say is that I'm not flagging this spam because I want to shut him up; I've asked them to move their OT BS to the MMR or another appropriate link. And whenever they continue to try to derail a conversation about a specific topic I will keep on flagging them for OT.

NP042
NP042

@outsider2011 @mantisdragon91 @ahandout Freedom of Speech doesn't even apply on a privately owned website, for what it's worth.  It's always hilarious to see people cry about it when posts are deleted or they get banned, too, cause it shows perfectly that they don't even understand what freedom of speech is.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@outsider2011

Keep flagging it for OT. If he can't keep stuff like this in MMR or related threads then he eventually deserve to get kicked out for spamming EVERY single subject with this kind of nonsense.

It's not his 'freedom of speech' - it's the barrage of unapologetic squirrel crap in every single subject now.

Most live blogs have moderators that ban these morons for trolling and spamming. At least the good ones. If he can't bother commenting on the subject at hand then he deserves to be removed. Seriously.