The Ohio Poll from the University of Cincinnati, released Monday morning, gives Obama 50 percent, Romney 48.5 percent. A Columbus Dispatch poll published Sunday showed Obama with a 2-point margin. Based on that, the state could go for either candidate, but Obama appears to be in a slightly stronger position in this key battleground.
Politics, like so much in life, can be haunted by questions of “What if?” That will be especially true for Romney if, after all the time and money and effort he has put into this state, he loses it and the presidency to Obama.
There are three big questions for Romney’s campaign to think about: What if he had not opposed the auto bailout? What if he had not run that controversial Jeep ad in the final two weeks? What if he had picked Ohio Sen. Rob Portman as his vice-presidential running mate? Would Ohio look different one day before Election Day if any or all of those had gone the other way?
If Obama wins Ohio, his decision to bail out the auto industry may be judged to have saved his presidency. If Romney loses Ohio, his decision to write an op-ed for the New York Times, which carried the headline (that Romney did not write) “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” may well be remembered as 872 words that cost him more than anyone could have predicted at the time.
The auto bailout was a risky and unpopular decision. Obama committed tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the industry. He ultimately forced bankruptcy on the companies. In a heavy-handed move, he ordered General Motors to replace its chief executive.
The bailout became a symbol to conservatives of all they believe is wrong with Obama’s economic philosophy: a preference for big government solutions, grandiose expenditures of government money, and the intrusion of Washington into free markets. As with the president’s economic stimulus package and health-care plan, the bailout became a line of demarcation in the politics of the country.
In Ohio, however, the bailout has been judged a success. Politicians in the two parties may argue over exactly why the unemployment rate in Ohio is almost a full point below the national average. They may quibble over how much the bailout has contributed to Ohio’s improving economic picture. But in a state where roughly one in eight jobs is tied to the industry and where there are auto-related companies in 80 of the 88 counties, the bailout has given the president something tangible to point to as a success at a time when many voters question whether his policies are helping to revive the overall economy.
Romney wrote his bailout piece before Obama was sworn in. Who would have guessed it would dog him throughout his long quest for the presidency. His aides have complained that the headline does an injustice to the arguments Romney made. Romney has said repeatedly that the Obama administration ultimately did what he proposed then, which was to put the beleaguered companies through bankruptcy.