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Okay, We Lost Ohio. The Question Is, Why?

Much has been made of the Republican effort to turn out voters through personal contact. Yet our poll shows that voters in these Republican counties were just as likely to be visited by a Kerry supporter at their homes as by a Bush supporter. Fewer than 2 percent were visited by a Bush supporter whom they knew personally.

Among the voters the Republicans targeted, the Democrats went toe-to-toe, knock-to-knock and phone call-to-phone call with them. And rest assured, in urban areas Republicans could not come close to matching the Democratic ground effort.

Wondering what happened: John Kerry supporters in Dayton, Ohio, watch his concession speech on Nov. 3. (Ty Greenlees -- Dayton Daily News Via AP)

Still, Kerry lost in Ohio, if narrowly, and that tipped the Electoral College in Bush's favor. If this wasn't a flood of "moral values" voters or a GOP juggernaut, what was it?

The reason Kerry lost the election had much more to do with the war in Iraq and terrorism than the political ground war in Ohio. Terrorism trumped other issues at the polls -- including moral values -- and anxious voters tended to side with Bush.

• By 54 percent to 41 percent, voters decided that Americans are now safer from terrorist threats than four years ago, national exit polls said.

• By 55 percent to 42 percent, voters accepted Bush's view that Iraq is a part of the war on terrorism. By 51 percent to 45 percent, they still approved of the decision to go to war (though a majority expressed concerns about how the war is going).

• Just 40 percent said they trusted Kerry to do a good job handling the war on terrorism, compared with 58 percent who felt that way about the president.

The Bush campaign was able to persuade some voters who supported Gore in 2000 to turn to Bush in 2004 on the issues of terrorism, strength and leadership. Bush bested Kerry among those who voted in 2000 by five percentage points -- Bush bested Gore in 2000 by three points.

The other major factor was our side's failure to win the economic debate. Despite an economy that was not delivering for many working people in Ohio, the exit poll results show that voters in Ohio did not see Kerry providing a clear alternative. Just 45 percent expressed confidence that Kerry could handle the economy, compared with Bush's 49 percent.

The GOP put on a strong mobilization effort, but that's not what tipped the Ohio election. They did not turn Gore voters into Bush voters by offering a ride to the polls. Instead, it was skillful exploitation of public concern over terrorism by the Bush team -- coupled with Democrats' inability to draw clear, powerful contrasts on the economy and health care -- that pushed Bush over the finish line.

Steve Rosenthal is the chief executive officer of America Coming Together. He was the political director of the AFL-CIO from 1996 to 2002.

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