MARION, Ohio — Paul Ryan stood onstage Sunday evening and told a fired-up crowd of nearly 5,000 supporters, “As Ohio goes, so goes America.”
Few would argue with the Republican vice presidential candidate. Of the 11 states rated as “toss ups” by Real Clear Politics, none is more fiercely contested than the Buckeye State, whose 18 Electoral College votes appear destined to decide this election. And the latest poll, commissioned by a consortium of Ohio’s eight largest newspapers, shows the state a dead heat, with 49 percent each for GOP challenger Mitt Romney and President Obama. Perhaps more important, the poll conducted Oct. 18-23 by University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research, showed Romney has gained three points — and Obama has lost two points — since September, when Obama led 51-46 in Ohio.
This net five-point shift in the Ohio newspaper poll substantially mirrors a general trend, as Romney has improved his standing in the RCP average for the state by a net 3.5 points since Sept. 30. And while Obama still leads most Ohio polls (by an average 2.1 points), “The trendline is going in our direction,” senior Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden said Sunday night during the rally at the Marion County Fairgrounds Coliseum.
Obama’s supposed advantages in Ohio have become a topic of discussion among political observers puzzled by a trend that shows Romney establishing a lead in national polls of likely voters– including his 50-46 lead in the Gallup tracking poll published Sunday — and yet persistently trailing Obama in Ohio. “How plausible is it that a guy who’s now below 47 percent in RCP’s national average is going to win a state that famously tracks with national sentiment each cycle?” asked the conservative blogger known as Allahpundit, adding that Obama is “getting hammered nationally with independents, especially on the core issue of the economy, and yet somehow he’s two points ahead overall in the ultimate bellwether? Really?”
While pundits puzzled over the poll data, Ohioans turned out in droves to see Romney and Ryan here Sunday night. An hour before the rally at the fairgrounds was scheduled to begin, traffic was backed up for blocks in every direction, and more than a thousand people were lined up in the cold October rain awaiting their turn to pass through the metal detectors. Shortly before the candidates took the stage, Marion fire marshal Mike Makowski told me that he estimated 4,700 people were packed inside the venue, and more were still standing in line at the doors. The crowd was entertained by legendary country music group The Oak Ridge Boys, and also heard a dire analysis of their community’s economic woes by a local Chamber of Commerce official who pointed out that 24 percent of Marion County residents are now on food stamps.
Marion County is steadily Republican, going for President Bush over Democrat John Kerry by an 18-point margin in 2004, but the GOP margin was cut to 8 points in 2008, when John McCain got 53 percent to 45 percent for Obama — and lost Ohio by more than a quarter million votes . To win Ohio next Tuesday, Romney will need to pile up a big advantage in GOP-leaning areas like this. Judging from the size and enthusiasm of Sunday’s crowd here, Romney is well-positioned to win. The audience laughed when Romney mocked the Obama administration’s economic sloganeering. “They’re going to go forward — more like forewarned, if you ask me,” he said. Romney referenced the negative attacks from the Obama campaign and said, “Paul Ryan and I can handle the attacks for nine more days, but the country can’t handle four more years.” The crowd began chanting: “Nine more days! Nine more days!”
Turning out the vote is the crucial task of those nine days, and Romney’s aide Madden praised the assistance of the Republican National Committee in building the “infrastructure” to support campaign operations in Ohio and other battleground states. “We feel great about our ground game,” Madden said. “We put a lot of effort into it.” He said that the Romney campaign’s “ground game” is now “as good as, if not better than” the fabled get-out-the-vote organization built by the Obama campaign. And it is now only eight more days until we learn how Ohio, and America will, will go.