Highway 270: Ohio

This article is part of an ongoing biweekly series called “Highway 270,” which profiles heavily contested states in the 2012 election season. This week, I will examine the current political climate in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes.

Winning Ohio was crucial to Obama’s 2008 victory, and it will undoubtedly be of comparable importance this November. The Washington Post claims that “[if] Obama can win Ohio, then he almost certainly will be reelected,” pointing out that no Republican has ever won the White House without it—and so an Obama victory in the Buckeye State could make an overall Romney win nearly impossible.

The Huffington Post currently calls Ohio a “light blue” state, reflecting their prediction that Obama will win its 18 electoral votes this fall. A Quinnipiac poll from earlier this month suggests that Obama has a slight lead in Ohio (50 percent to Romney’s 44), if a vulnerable one.

The president’s most significant demographic lead in Ohio is amongst female voters, 58 percent of whom support him. Overall, he has a 51 percent approval rating in the state, compared to Romney’s 40 percent.

But there are months to go before the election, and there is time for a lot to change. When the Quinnipiac poll was conducted, for example, Romney had yet to select a running mate.

Many pundits predicted (albeit incorrectly) that Romney would nominate Ohio senator Rob Portman to run alongside him as VP. Selecting Portman would have been a smart way to up his Ohio chances, but Romney likely hopes that Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan (his actual pick) will boost his numbers throughout the upper Midwest.

The selection of Paul Ryan also indicates Romney’s desire to emphasize economic reform as the central issue of his campaign. This strategy could prove beneficial in winning the Ohio vote; 48 percent of Ohioans rate economic improvement as the most important issue of the election. When asked who would do a better job on the economy, voters came out in equal shares for Romney and Obama. The Romney-Ryan ticket’s biggest challenge to winning Ohio will be convincing its citizens (who are already concerned about economic future) that their plan for reform will be more successful than Obama’s.

As for Obama-Biden, they must make the case for their economic plan to voters (obviously); but they should also force a conversation on health care (another big issue to Ohio voters), since Ohioans rank Obama as better on health care than Romney (48 percent to 42). And in a state where roughly 20 percent of the population is over 60, the DNC should make some noise about the fact that Paul Ryan’s economic plan involves extremely heavy cuts to Medicare, essentially turning it into a voucher program.

Ultimately, Obama’s success in Ohio will depend on his ability to shape the conversation to the issues where he polls strongly in the Buckeye state. The same, naturally, is true of Romney.