BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — With only 40 days until Election Day, the presidential candidates are going the distance to win the heart of the heartland.
Speaking in Ohio Wednesday, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were only 25 miles apart, but in their speeches the two candidates hoped to demonstrate that their policies are much farther apart.
While Obama spoke here, on the campus of Bowling Green State U., and also at Kent State U., Romney visited the city of Toledo, which is hotly contested, and swept with political advertising.
Both candidates have visited Toledo this month, and it has been the eighth hottest media market in terms of political advertising, according to NBC. NBC reported that in September, Romney’s campaign spent $1 million on advertising in the city, while Obama has invested around $760,000.
Obama has visited the state fifteen times this year, according to Mark Knoller, the CBS News White House correspondent. Romney has visited the state 10 times since May 1, and seven times during the primaries, according to the Associated Press.
Electoral history and experts suggest that the campaigns’ emphasis on Ohio is warranted. Since John F. Kennedy lost the state in the 1960 presidential election, no one has been elected president of the United States without winning Ohio’s electoral votes.Obama leads Romney in Ohio 53 to 43 percent in a poll released by Quinnipac U. yesterday in conjunction with CBS News and The New York Times.
Issues that Obama has touted as successes, including the rebirth of the auto industry, have proved important to voters here. According to NBC, 57 percent of Ohioans who might vote said they didn’t think Romney cared about their needs, and 51 percent thought Obama could better handle the economy.
Michael Heaney, a U. Michigan assistant professor of political science, called the state a “linchpin” for Romney, emphasizing that he needs to win the state in order to win the presidency. He added that while the state is still important for Obama he could win the election with a coalition of electoral votes from other states such as Virginia, Iowa and Colorado in place of Ohio.
“There are multiple paths for (Obama) to win the election, and those paths may or may not include Ohio,” Heaney said. “For Obama, Ohio is one of the states that could put him over the top, whereas for Mitt Romney, it’s really hard to see how he could win the election without winning Ohio.”
Heaney noted that of all the swing states, Ohio offers the second most electoral votes at 18, behind Florida with 29.
Not only does Ohio serve as a substantial boost in the total electoral count for a president, it is a “bellwether state” that tends to reliably reflect the rest of the undecided sectors of the nation, Heany said.
“Ohio is the state that is most likely to make a difference in the election. If there’s going to be one state that swings the election from one candidate to another, it’s going to be Ohio,” Heaney said. “It reflects the trend in the nation.”
Heaney said one explanation for Obama’s lead in Ohio may be that the state’s economic recovery has been slightly better than the national average.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was reported at 7.2 percent in August, the lowest unemployment rate in the state since 2008. The AP reported that Ohio’s unemployment rate has steadily remained 1-percent less than the national rate, and the number of unemployed residents in Ohio decreased by 5,000 from July to August.
UM political Science Prof. John Chamberlin said Ohio will continue to receive national media attention and become a state indicative of who will win the election.
“Republicans are not running ads in Michigan and Pennsylvania so they can throw money into Ohio,” Chamberlin said. “It is going to be one of the places that absorb a huge amount of campaign money and time. People will be polling like crazy in Ohio and we’ll start to see those results in the next ten days.”
Though they didn’t campaign together in Toledo, Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Wisc.) have held other rallies together this week, suggesting that Republicans have realized they need to double their effort in Ohio, Political Science Prof. Michael Traugott said.
“We can tell generally in a campaign about the importance of a particular state by how much the candidates spend on advertising, how much of their personal time they spend there, and the significance of Ohio is much more important for Romney and that’s why both he and Paul Ryan are campaigning there,” Traugott said.
Traugott said Romney is already facing a tougher challenge, because polling suggests Ohio seems to prefer Obama’s policies.
“For Romney, it’s a more difficult task because his standard advertising message doesn’t seem to be very influential for the voters in Ohio,” Traugott said. “In addition to the personal appearances that he makes, he’s going to have to revise his message somehow.”
When the polls open on Election Day on Nov. 6, up to 40 percent of the country will have already voted, according to CNN. Ohio begins its early voting process — in which certain states allow in-person or mail-in voting before Nov. 6 — on Oct. 2.
Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher told CNN that the Obama campaign realizes the potential benefit of getting people to cast their votes early.
“While Mitt Romney and his allies are counting on big ad buys … we’ve made early investments in battleground states — where we’ve been registering folks and keeping an open conversation going with undecided voters for months — to build a historic grassroots organization that will pay off when the votes are counted,” Fetcher said.
In their visits yesterday, both candidates said the electoral battle for Ohio could them win the political war for America’s future.
Speaking to a crowd at the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Romney said the policies he would bring to the Oval Office are very different than Obama’s.
Romney said he could save voters from the pitfalls of another four years under the Obama administration. Speaking in Lucas County — where NBC reports 18 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, and a median household income is about $42,000 — Romney said he would address the economic despair of the middle class if elected.
“Do you want four more years where half our kids coming out of college can’t find a college level job? Do you want four more years of trillion dollar deficits?” Romney asked. “If President Obama were to be re-elected, what we’d see is four more years like the last four years, and we can’t afford another four more years.”
Romney said his policy platforms will lead America down a more prosperous path and generate much-needed change for the nation.
“I will take America in a very different direction than this president,” Romney said. “This election comes down to a choice. It comes down to a choice of path. His campaign slogan is “forward” — forward with the same ideas, the same approach as he’s had the last four years.”
Earlier in the day in a raucous rally here, Obama said he too recognized very different realities for America’s future depending on which candidate is chosen in November.
During Wednesday’s speech at BGSU, Obama said that because of personal experience he deeply valued higher education.
“Education was my gateway to opportunity,” Obama said. “That’s the only reason I’m standing here. It’s the path more than ever to a middle-class life.
Caitlyn Fuller, a senior at BGSU and a life-long resident of Bowling Green, said she came to the event to support the President, who she finds to be more relatable than Romney.
“He’s just really, really wealthy, and I’m not sure how in touch he is with Ohio,” Fuller said.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily following the president’s speech yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama’s visit to Ohio shows his commitment to working families.
“The President is committed to the people taking these auto bailouts,” Carney said.
Speaking to the crowd at BGSU, Obama said he was proud of defending the auto industry, an effort he said his opponent chided, alluding to a 2008 New York Times Op-ed written by Romney titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
“When my opponent just said we should, ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,’ that would have meant walking away from an industry that supports one in eight Ohio jobs,” Obama said.
Obama said he already had the country heading in the right direction — forward, like his campaign slogan.
“Today, the American auto industry has come roaring back with nearly 250,000 new jobs,” Obama said. “Now you’ve got a choice. We can give more tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas or we can start rewarding companies for opening new plants and training new workers and creating jobs right here in the United States.”
Obama said that unlike Romney, he would be a president for all, citing the recent exposure of a speech made by Romney to donors in May that claimed 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the federal government and view themselves to be victim.
“I don’t believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives,” Obama said. “As I drive around Ohio and as I look around, I don’t see a bunch of victims, I see hard-working Ohioans.”
In Toledo, Romney admitted Obama cares, but said the president’s good intentions are misplaced.
“Look, I know the President cares about America, the people of this country,” Romney said. “He just doesn’t know how to help them. I do.”