By Megan Moore
The Romney campaign has gone to Ohio, one of the most important swing states of the election. A significant bellwether whose electoral results have a national match rate of 93.%, no Republican president has won an election without it. If Romney can secure victory in the Buckeye State, Obama will struggle greatly to make up the lost electoral votes in states where his popularity is far less secure.
But the difficulties that Romney faces in Ohio must not be underestimated: the latest polls show Obama has a 10-point lead over his opponent in the state. While blue-collar workers and Catholics, populous in the industrial towns along the Ohio River, have notably been expressing less enthusiasm for Obama, that does not necessarily translate into votes for Romney. For one thing, Obama’s ‘white working-class problem’ is arguably overstated, and statistically significant only in the South. Then there is the auto industry bailout. One in eight jobs in Ohio are linked to the auto industry, while 82 of the 88 counties are home to supplier auto plants. Given the importance of the industry in the state, Romney’s ‘bankruptcy’ remarks could, to say the very least, have been better and more persuasively put, and Obama has made hay with them on his many previous visits to the state. The auto bailout is the primary reason why dissatisfaction with the floundering economy does not, in Ohio, translate into dissatisfaction with Obama – thus undermining the narrative of Romney’s campaign.
However, the state’s below-average unemployment rate cannot be attributed solely to the propped-up auto industry. Ohio has also been benefiting from the shale gas boom and expansions in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which have helped give Ohio the fourth-fastest rate of job growth in the US. Obama has been supportive of fracking, but in the face of much Democrat opposition – Romney is in a good position to present himself as the pro-energy candidate by pushing the message that growth in the industry is being stultified by Obama’s regulatory policies.
Romney has further problems in that he has been tarred with ruthless efficiency as a heartless vulture capitalist through a series of attack ads run by both the Obama campaign and the super-PAC Priorities USA, a disproportionate number of which were aired in Ohio. To bounce back from these attacks, Romney will need to prove himself to be a far more charitable figure than his ‘the guy who fires you’ caricature. Recent gaffes, however – such as his 47% remark, which has inevitably been jumped on by Romney’s detractors despite referring to electoral strategy rather than personal charity – suggest it is going to be an uphill struggle. His hope lies with Paul Ryan, who, as he recently proved in his speech to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), is capable of making tough arguments compassionately to hostile constituencies. This is a talent that will need to be put to good use with Ohio’s manufacturing workers.
It is highly difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of any way in which Romney could win the election without Ohio. Even with a highly focused campaign, that victory is by no means secure.
Megan Moore is currently interning at the Leadership Institute in Washington DC as part of the YBF internship programme.