SHARONVILLE, Ohio -- Butler County may prove to be the key to the entire 2012 election, Ground Zero of the battle for the White House and essential to Mitt Romney's hopes for victory. That explains why, when the Romney campaign scheduled Friday's massive "Victory Rally" to kick off a four-day final pre-Election Day tour, they chose Butler County as the site.
An all-star cast of Republicans -- including Rudy Giuliani, House Speaker John Boehner, Condoleezza Rice and Marco Rubio -- will join Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan at an event in West Chester featuring Kid Rock as musical entertainment. The rally is expected to draw greater attendance than the Republican National Convention -- some have dubbed it "RNC II" -- and such a crowd is expected that the doors will open four hours ahead of the 7:30 p.m. start of the rally.
To understand why this suburb of Cincinnati is so essential to Republican success, it is necessary to look at the past two elections. In 2004, when George W. Bush carried Ohio by more than 100,000 votes, approximately half his margin of victory came from Butler County, where he defeated Democrat John Kerry by about 53,000 votes. In 2008, however, when Barack Obama won Ohio by a margin of 250,000 votes, the GOP margin for John McCain in Butler County was less than 40,000 votes -- roughly a 4,500-vote decline for the Republicans and nearly a 10,000-vote increase for Democrats.
With this year's fight for Ohio's crucial 18 Electoral College votes expected to be extremely close, the difference of a few thousand extra votes for Romney in Butler County might be the difference between victory and defeat. On Election Night, then, analysts will be watching returns from this county very closely. If early returns show Romney near 65 percent here, he'll likely be the next President of the United States. If not …
Perish the thought. Despite all talk of alternative routes to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, no Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio, and the tone of campaign rhetoric in the final week before Election Day conveys the impression that defeat for Romney would be the tragic end of the American constitutional republic.
That was part of the basic message Ann Romney brought to Butler County this week when she appeared in the county seat, Hamilton, and told how her husband mulled the decision of whether he should seek the presidency in 2012, after having lost the nomination to McCain in 2008. She explained that she asked him, "Is it too late to save the country?" Mrs. Romney then told the audience of about 200 people that "it will be too late if we have another four years" of Obama's policies, before describing how she finally told her husband, "You must run. You have to save the country."
Was this political hyperbole? Was it mere partisan rhetoric? Mrs. Romney would get no argument from the hundreds of conservative volunteers, both from Ohio and from out of state, who are now swarming Butler County, canvassing door-to-door or running phone-bank operations in an all-out effort to maximize the GOP vote in this, the largest cache of Republican votes in the Buckeye State. Many of these grassroots volunteers are part of a "voter education" operation run by Americans for Prosperity (see, "Ground Troops in Ohio," Oct. 31), and the effort to recruit more soldiers for this army continues.
Yesterday at the Mariner's Inn in West Chester, about 40 people showed up to hear former Sen. Fred Thompson at an AFP event. "We're at a crossroads in this country," said Thompson, as he reflected on America's history and its founding principles. The politician-turned-actor-turned-talk-radio-host mused somberly on the situation in Europe, which he described as "coming apart at the seams," noting that Greece, the famed cradle of democracy, is now "rioting in the streets" in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Then he turned his attention to more recent political history with a note of dark sarcasm: "So, Mister Wonderful got elected …"
Thompson mocked the almost mystical vision of Obama that persuaded many voters in 2008 to believe the Democrat was a "modern-day messiah who could make the oceans recede." But this political messiah has clearly failed to accomplish any miracles, and Thompson remarked angrily about one of Obama's most recent failures, the Sept. 11 debacle in Libya that resulted in the death of the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans. Thompson recalled his own days as a young lawyer working with the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation of the Watergate scandal, as he called the administration's mishandling of the terrorist attack on our Benghazi consulate "probably the biggest cover-up in American history -- and you're talking to an expert in cover-ups." Students of history will recall that the ugly facts about Watergate were not known in time to prevent Nixon from winning a landslide, and there are some Republicans who grumble about the relative paucity of major-media attention to what they see as a scandal that could destroy Obama's chances of re-election, if Americans knew the truth.
Many of those Republicans stare with disbelief at the poll numbers in Ohio, which show Obama leading by 2.3 points in the Real Clear Politics average for the state. How can it be, they ask themselves, that these sensible Midwesterners could be deceived by the media's pro-Obama spin? The numbers must be wrong, they tell themselves, and in only four more days, the guessing game will be over. And if it is Romney's mission, as his wife says, to "save the country," then Republicans must pray that on Nov. 6, Butler County will save Romney.