She was reluctant to talk much about the choice she faces in deciding between Romney and President Obama, she said, but the smile on her face reflected the understanding that she and every other voter in Ohio — decided or not — are at the center of one of the epic struggles in presidential politics.
Ohio has played a central role in presidential campaigns for many years, but at no time has its significance been as great as in 2012. It is as if the entire presidential campaign is being waged in this complex and sprawling state.
A cartoon by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this month captured the symbolic significance of the Buckeye State. Three schoolchildren stood before a U.S. map with no lines delineating the states. The map said simply, “Ohio.” “I like the new map,” one of the youngsters says. “It’s a lot easier than memorizing fifty states.”
There is nothing cartoonish about the campaign here. Obama and Romney are engaged in a high-stakes battle for the state’s 18 electoral votes. If Obama can win them, Romney’s path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency becomes almost — almost — insurmountable.
Two months ago, Obama had a small lead in Ohio. A month ago, after Romney’s “47 percent” comment, Obama’s lead rose to eight to 10 points, according to several public polls. In the aftermath of the debates, Romney’s campaign has been infused with fresh energy. Some recent polls showed the president with a slender advantage, but the newest survey, released Saturday night by a consortium of Ohio newspapers, showed Obama and Romney now tied at 49 percent each. The consortium’s poll last month had Obama ahead by five points.
A handful of other states remain in play. Florida is the biggest of all the battleground prizes, with 29 electoral votes. It is a must-win for Romney. Both campaigns expect Virginia to be a nail-biter. Colorado and New Hampshire appear exceedingly close. The Obama campaign refuses to give up on North Carolina, though Romney is favored there. Romney will not yield in Nevada, though the Obama team remains confident there. Wisconsin, too, is expected to be close.
Still, because of its centrality in the electoral-college calculations, Ohio continues to draw the most focus and intensity, with the battle being waged at all times and on all fronts. Hardly a day now passes without Obama and Romney, or their running mates, Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) visiting the state — often on the same day.
Since the political conventions, Romney has been in Ohio on 12 different days, holding 27 events. Ryan has done 19 events in 12 days, according to his campaign. Obama’s campaign said the president has been here seven days since his convention, holding 10 events. Biden has held 10 events on six days of campaigning.