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The Advocate's Big Four Report: Ohio

The Advocate's Big Four Report: Ohio

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The Advocate continues its coverage of four swing states this week with Ohio, the state that could well decide the 2008 election ... and the state that John Kerry lost by a scant 119,000 votes in 2004. This story is the first of four pieces focusing on the state's political dynamics, LGBT concerns, and how it all will play out on Election Day.

Target State: Ohio

Electoral College Votes: 20?

Voted for Bush: 2000 and 2004 ?

Governor: Ted Strickland (D)?

State Senate: 12 Dem, 21 GOP?

State House: 46 Dem, 53 GOP

When President George W. Bush edged out John Kerry in Ohio by just two percentage points in 2004, some analysts argued he was helped by receiving 16% of the African-American vote -- up from 9% in 2000 -- and that the black voters had shown up to vote in favor of the state's constitutional marriage amendment.

Whether that theory is true or not, it won't help Sen. John McCain much this year, since an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this month showed the state's black voters supporting Sen. Barack Obama over McCain 98% to 1%. Accordingly, the Obama campaign is trying to maximize turnout among the state's African-American electorate, and campaign officials reportedly believe they must achieve a 75% turnout rate in that demographic.

But as always, Ohio will be a game of margins and some of those margins are still in question. For instance, Ohio's secretary of state says that about 200,000 of the state's roughly 666,000 new voters registered since the start of 2008 still have to be verified. To put that in perspective, John Kerry lost the state in 2004 by about 119,000 votes.

A recent poll by Fox News/Rasmussen Reports survey taken Sunday night puts Barack Obama about four percentage points (49%-45%) ahead of John McCain -- the widest lead in several weeks of seesawing polls that gave McCain a two-point advantage last week and had Obama up by two the previous week.

"Both candidates have put a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of money into Ohio, and what I see right now is Barack Obama with a small but measurable lead in Ohio," says Herb Asher, professor of political science at Ohio State University.

Obama is helped by a number of factors in Ohio this year, not the least of which are the economy and a superior ground game to that of the Democrats in 2004.

"John Kerry's campaign basically focused on the six major urban counties," Asher says. "The Obama campaign is organized throughout the state, including in regions where he's not going to carry those counties. If you can reduce your deficit in certain areas, that's just as good as getting the vote of another area."

Asher names Delaware County, just north of Columbus, for instance, as one of the fastest-growing areas of the state and highly Republican. "I'm very confident John McCain will carry it," Asher says, "but the interesting thing will be, how does he do in comparison to George Bush, four years ago? And my guess is that he won't do as well."

Obama's gay deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, told The Columbus Dispatch in September that the campaign had opened 77 field offices and has more than 300 paid staffers working across the state. Numbers like that are what contribute to the results from a recent ABC News poll of eight swing states including Ohio showing that 42% of voters in those states have been contacted by the Obama campaign versus 29% who have heard from the McCain campaign.

Asher also believes Obama has benefited from the grueling primary battle he fought against Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"Hillary Clinton became a better candidate over the course of the campaign and actually became the most effective candidate in terms of being a fighter for the middle class and the working class," he says. "I think it provided some lessons for the Obama campaign -- sometimes you have to speak the language of the voters."

Aside from the presidential race, Asher says Ohio could offer up some other bonuses to Democrats next week, including a pickup of one to four U.S. congressional seats and the chance to pick up four seats in the state house legislature and flip control of the chamber to Democrats.

"The major battle besides the presidential race is, in fact, control of the Ohio [state] house of representatives," Asher says.

Up next: A look at how antigay campaign literature is figuring into the fierce battle for control of the state house of representatives.

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