Posted By RichC on July 20, 2012
By Dante Chinni
Come January, either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will likely be president, but win or lose it looks like both men will be quite familiar with the highways and tarmacs of Ohio.
Given their recent travel schedules, it almost seems that the president and presumptive Republican nominee should apply for residency. This past week President Obama was in Cincinnati and Mr. Romney stumped in Bowling Green before attending a fundraiser in Toledo.
The infatuation presidential candidates have with Ohio is not new. Any political junky can quote the “importance of Ohio” facts off the top of his head. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio. Since 1944, Ohio has only voted for the loser in a presidential election once, in 1960, when sided with Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy. The state’s geographic location, a link between the industrial Midwest and Appalachia, offers a diverse and complicated electorate.
But the 2012 edition of Ohio-mania is particularly impressive. Since May, the two major party candidates have visited the state 13 times between them – six trips for Mr. Obama, seven for Mr. Romney. On average that’s slightly better than one candidate visit a week, not counting campaign surrogates, and remember we are only in mid-July.
Recently, the number of campaign offices in the state has exploded as Republican Victory Centers, which are also Romney offices, have opened to keep up with the Obama team’s advantage. There are some 39 Obama offices in the state and 35 GOP Victory centers.
So yes, most everyone believes Ohio is going to be important in 2012. But mapping those visits and offices hints at some different approaches in the way the Obama and Romney teams are approaching the state.
There are some obvious targets in Ohio. The state’s three largest cities and biggest pools of votes run in a diagonal from east to west, and both Messrs. Obama and Romney have loaded up in them. Each has nine campaign offices in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties, the respective homes of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Mr. Obama has visited each county since May – Cuyahoga more than once — while Mr. Romney has been to Cuyahoga and Hamilton in that time.
When you get out of those big cities is when things get a bit more interesting, however.
For his part, Mr. Romney seems particularly focused on the suburbs. He has six offices in counties Patchwork Nation calls the Monied Burbs – three each in the suburban counties around Cleveland (Medina, Lorain and Lake) and Columbus (Delaware, Fairfield and Licking). The counties around Columbus all went for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and likely good territory for Mr. Romney. His activity in the counties around Cleveland, where Mr. Obama did better, is a more aggressive move. But Medina and Lake are wealthier and Mr. Romney may see them as targets of opportunity.
More surprising is the way that, so far anyway, Mr. Romney has not looked partly active in travel to or offices in Ohio’s aging Emptying Nest counties in the north of the state and the small town Service Worker Centers, largely in its south. Those counties, overall, were good territory for Mr. McCain.
For its part, the Obama team has not been as active in the wealthy Monied Burb counties. Even though they have more offices in Ohio, overall, they have only four in those counties, two around Cleveland (Lake and Lorain), one near Columbus (Licking) and one in Miami County, near Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
But Mr. Obama also has nine offices in Ohio Service Worker Center counties – that’s more than Mr. Romney in counties that generally favor Republicans. Some of those places intrinsically make sense, like Erie County, which he won in 2008. But others, like Ross and Scioto in the south and Allen and Richland in the north, he lost by good-sized margins. What could be driving Mr. Obama’s interest there?
It’s impossible to know what goes into a campaign’s decisions without being inside of it, but here’s one point to consider: All those counties had a 2010 median household income of under $40,000.
We noted in this space during the primary campaign that while Mr. Romney tends to do well with wealthier voters, he’s had trouble connecting with – and winning – voters in less wealthy places. These more far-flung office locations suggest that the Obama campaign may have that pattern in mind.
It certainly fits with the more populist tack the White House has taken lately on topics like Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital and it is something to watch as both campaigns continue their plans to open offices. (Mr. Obama, of course, is a far different alternative for those voters than former Sen. Rick Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)
Moreover, these data also suggest the presidential campaign may be more complicated than some analysts believe.
One bit of conventional wisdom holds that the 2012 presidential race is going to be a “base election,” like 2004 when President George W. Bush won by bringing social conservative voters out to the polls. That may end up being true. It’s still not August and there are more offices to open and many more campaign trips to come – in Ohio and elsewhere.
But the way the candidates are handling travel and offices in Ohio, suggests there may be more subtle strategies being employed by both sides.