How Obama Is Leveraging the Power of the Incumbency in Swing States

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President Obama has a soft spot for the state of Ohio, a crucial swing state that every Republican President has won en route to the White House. And as Jeffrey Markon and Alice Crites wrote recently in the Washington Post, Obama has used the powers of the incumbency to a startlingly effective degree in his effort to keep that state blue. 

Markon and Crites found that Ohio has been paid a visit by either Obama or Vice President Joe Biden on average once every three weeks since they took office. In that time, their Administration has showered the state with federal money: $125 million in clean-energy manufacturing-tax credits, 2,726 loans through the Small Business Administration (500 more than were given to Florida), the fourth highest total of Race to the Top grants of any state and $400 million for a passenger train connecting Cleveland and Cincinnati.

On Sept. 13, Mitt Romney released an ad criticizing the President for presiding over a 25% increase in Chinese manufacturing while the U.S. shed 500,000 manufacturing jobs. Four days later, Obama announced in Ohio that he had filed a new trade case against China at the World Trade Organization focusing on auto parts, many of which are made in the Buckeye State.

But Ohio isn’t the only swing state that’s getting favorable treatment. In August, Obama announced in Iowa that the USDA would purchase $170 million worth of meat and fish from drought-stricken agricultural states. Two weeks ago, Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, announced that Virginia would receive $74.8 million for a high-speed-rail project. The week before, the Federal Highway Administration reallocated $52 million to the Virginia Department of Transportation to repave Virginia’s major highways. And just last week, Obama declared Colorado’s Chimney Rock a national monument, a popular decision among environmentalists and that swing state’s tourist industry.

Boston University professors Douglas L. Kriner and Andrew Reeves have studied presidential elections from 1988 to 2008 and found that “voters reward incumbent Presidents (or their party’s nominee) for increased federal spending in their communities” and that the relationship between federal grants and votes are more than twice as strong in counties of swing states as in noncompetitive states.

That’s an advantage no challenger can match.