“Please Come In,” it said.
Below that, a red, white and blue sticker added, “Ohio Votes Early. Register to Vote Here.” On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined a challenge to the state’s in-person early-voting program — a big win for the Obama campaign, which has argued that minority and poor voters take advantage of such voting.
Inside this campaign office — one of many throughout the state — scattered signs promoted “Early Voting in Person!” A “Get Out the Vote Leadership Manual” sat on a desk under a handmade banner that read “Canvassing.” In the next room, a whiteboard reminded volunteers of “weeks to go” and kept track of calls made, doors knocked upon, voters registered. On a recent evening, two college-age volunteers hovered over their laptops. The one with chunky hipster glasses did data entry. The one with torn skinny jeans cut labels reading “Not just for some of us.” They didn’t seem the ideal people to reach the “us” — white, blue-collar swing voters — that will likely determine the presidential election.
The past month has been a period of wild swings in the presidential race. First there was the Democratic high after the party’s national convention and the certainty of party loyalists that Mitt Romney, President Obama’s Republican challenger, was dead in the water. Then came Obama’s disastrous debate performance in Denver that convinced many of his supporters that all was lost. Some swing states where the president had enjoyed a solid lead started to shift rightward. The president’s supporters took to rending their garments, and Romney worked lines into his stump speech contrasting Obama’s slide with his own surge. “A crescendo!” he called it.
In the middle of all this turmoil sits Ohio and its white working-class voters who may well decide the election.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who traveled with Romney to Hofstra University for the second presidential debate, told reporters on Tuesday that Ohio was “a dead heat.” Some reporters expressed skepticism, but Portman said that private, internal campaign polls had shown Romney making up a lot of ground since the first debate. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina immediately rebutted this assertion: “We’re winning in Ohio.”
While both sides seek to play the expectations game, Ohioans have already started casting votes. Franklin County, which includes Columbus, leads the state in absentee ballots returned; 76,371 have voted in the county, according to the Board of Elections. That’s about 13.5 percent of the total vote cast in the county in 2008, when Barack Obama received some 305,000 votes there, about 100,000 more than Republican candidate John McCain.