TOLEDO — For many Ohioans, at first it felt like love.
Now it feels like stalking.
In this state, considered by both sides to be the place likely to determine the outcome of the presidential election, it is impossible to get away from President Obama and Mitt Romney.
They write. They call. They stop by the house, sometimes more than once a day.
Turn on the news, and they’re there — during the commercials and between them. They blow up cellphones with text messages and they e-mail constantly, begging and pleading — mostly for money, sometimes for votes.
“It’s just oversaturation at this point. It’s enough,” said Steve Thomas, 60, a physician’s assistant doing his part to make it all stop by casting an early ballot Thursday.
Even in a state grown accustomed to its status as a key presidential battleground, people are agreed that they’ve seen nothing like the 2012 election.
Part of it is how long it’s been going on, for a full year or more now. And part of it, in this most expensive election in history, is how much money both sides have to spend on the elusive activities that the pros call “the ground game” and that ordinary people call harassment. Why send one flier when you can afford to send 12?
Both sides brag that they've never had a more sophisticated effort to find potential supporters and reach out to them — many, many times if necessary.
The Romney campaign claims it has made 4.9 million phone calls and knocked on 2.3 million doors in Ohio alone. The Obama campaign doesn’t release such numbers but says it has outdone the Republicans.
That’s all in a state with 11.5 million people, 7.9 million of whom are registered to vote.
All of that outreach can feel oppressive to voters — and confusing to many who say they made up their minds long ago and regularly vote, helpful phone reminder or no.
“I’ve voted in every election since I was 18. I’ve never been one to think my vote doesn’t matter,” said Bridgett Garnett, 33, from Toledo.
That didn’t stop campaign workers from knocking on her door. Fifteen of them so far.
“To make sure I vote. To make sure I vote early. To inform me about various things on the ballot,” she said. “I always listen. With a lot of them, you can tell they’re nervous, and I respect that door-to-door thing.”
In some ways, it’s as if Ohio has become New Hampshire and Iowa, home to the nation’s first contests of the primary season, where the joke is that you can’t make up your mind until you’ve met each candidate at least twice.
If you live in Ohio, and you want to see the candidates speak, you’ve had dozens of opportunities.
The difference is that candidates come to New Hampshire and Iowa scrappy and poor. They compete to outdo each other at long town-hall meetings, where ordinary people ask ordinary questions. They visit diners. They shake hands and listen to voters one-by-one.
The primary states ask for the privilege, and they fight to keep it.
By the time the campaign gets here, it’s all recorded phone calls, biting television ads and snazzy rallies that require waiting in line for hours to get through Secret Service checkpoints.
And Ohio didn’t really choose this. It stumbled into its all-important status by somehow developing the perfect mix of urban and rural, white and black, young and old, to produce a history of razor-thin election margins.
Voters say it’s the television ads, dripping with negativity, that feel most depressing. But it’s the phone calls that are most annoying, usually with a recording on the other line, occasionally with a script-reading volunteer barely audible above the sound of fellow phone-bankers making the same calls.
“You can turn off the television. You don’t have to read the paper. You can turn off the radio. But the phone rings. You don’t know who it’s from. It could be your mother. So you answer it,” said John Engle, 66, a retired teacher from Sylvania.
A surprising number, say voters, are survey takers asking for their opinions as part of a poll, as the rest of the country joins the candidates in demanding to know what Ohio thinks.
Voters here say they understand the privilege they have by living in Ohio, how in a very real way their opinion about who should be president counts more than that of people living in other states.
Still, they say they’re counting down until Wednesday, when Ohio once again will become just another state.
“It’ll be nice,” said David Rock, 52, a nurse from Oregon, Ohio, who voted for Obama. But people in Ohio care about this election just like everywhere else. So he added, “Well, I guess it’ll be nice. It depends who wins.”