By Chris Cillizza
Back in May, political analyst Stu Rothenberg threw out a challenge we couldn't resist. Rothenberg wrote that "the fight for the House of Representatives could be determined in nine adjacent districts in four states, stretching from West Virginia to Indiana."
The area is ground zero in the battle for control of Congress and the larger battle between America's two major parties. The region is also emblematic of a closely divided nation -- neither the Republicans nor Democrats have a lock on its electorate.
Rothenberg said "this swath of prime campaign territory" roughly follows the Ohio River and could all be seen in a few days and 500 miles. Well readers, buy some beef jerky and grab your iPod, because we're making the trip.
We -- Chris Cillizza, Jim VandeHei, and Chet Rhodes -- are taking a ramble down the Ohio River to cover nine competitive congressional districts in nine days (Sept. 20-28). We'll file reports from the road -- blog posts, videos, radio hits and articles in The Washington Post, with the goal of trying to read the electoral pulse in this piece of America's heartland. We'll hang out with the locals and get their take on the big issues. We'll follow the candidates out on the stump, and talk to the region's best pundits and pollsters.
In the end we hope to find out why the region is so sharply divided and which way it may tip in this election. We'll also try to answer a bunch of questions: Are big national issues more important than local concerns? Have Democrats learned the trick to winning rural districts? Does running a second time improve or lessen a candidate's chances of winning?
Check out the Ohio River Ramble page on washingtonpost.com for your one-stop shopping of stories, blog posts and video from the trip. Also, check out washingtonpost.com's politics blog, The Fix, for ongoing updates from the road.