Ohio Election Night: What to Watch and What Else to Watch

At the last weekend of the campaign, my confidence is not as high as I’d like it.  Four years ago, I was sure that Barack Obama would win but I also saw a path for McCain.  Then at 8:15 when they called Pennsylvania, I knew it was over.  Today they are many different iterations for a Romney win, but the bottom line RCP electoral map suggests that Obama is ahead and has an easier path to victory.  The current no-toss up map has Obama winning 290-248 which means Romney must win… as was true three months ago… Ohio plus one.

Before I talk about what to watch in Ohio on election night, I’ve been looking at a Romney path that does not include Ohio.  Ohio has lost population over the last number of years and the population that remains may include more Democrats.  Obama voters who see the impact of a struggling economy, and who otherwise would be ripe for a switch on Election Night, have been barraged with anti-Romney information.  Some don’t like the Bain Capital narrative and others are worried about the social conservative agenda.  Whatever the case, I think there have been very few undecided voters in Ohio and it will all depend on turnout.

So without Ohio, Pennsylvania plus one becomes the mantra.  Pennsylvania is very similar to Ohio where Philadelphia is the Cleveland / Northeast Ohio, the Pittsburgh area is the region from Youngstown and to the south, and the middle of PA is the middle and west of OH.  So if Romney wins Pennsylvania, he just needs New Hampshire or Iowa or Colorado.  Easy enough… if he wins Pennsylvania.

Another problem though might be Virginia.  I was thinking about which regions of the country would Obama’s enthusiasm level be greater now than in 2008, and I wonder about the DC area and the Virginia coast.  So it is somewhat unlikely, but Virginia has been a target of negative ads just like Ohio and Obama could win both states.  So now, Romney needs these “new battleground” states of Pennsylvania plus two if they include Wisconsin or Michigan.  It would be Pennsylvania plus three if you need NH, IA, and CO.  That could be doable, but much more challenging.

**Update.  A couple hours after I posted this, I saw an iteration chart from the New York Times.  It looks at each of the 512 iterations of the 9 swing states and finds that Obama has 431 different ways to win while Romney only has 76.  This contains the standard list of swing states which includes NC and does not include PA.  Still, a nice interactive website to visit.

Back to Ohio, I’ll be looking at different county numbers because (as any follower of Ohio elections knows) Cuyahoga is a big county, heavily Democratic, and notoriously late in producing its results.  Expect Romney to take an early lead, but only time will tell who the eventual winner will be.  For those looking toward a 2010 turnout, that election saw five House seats switch from Democrat to Republican.  (New York also saw five Democrats lose their seats, and four Democrats lost their seats in Florida, Illinois, and… Pennsylvania.)  But in this big Republican year, Ohio elected John Kasich as Governor in a very tight race at 49-47.  Here is that county map.

Ohio County Map for Kasich 2010As is typical, Democrats do very well in the north then the map stretches down the southeast edge.  What keeps this map from showing a Governor Strickland victory are the narrow Kasich victories in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and Montgomery County (Dayton) and the decisive Kasich victories in the surrounding ones.  President Obama, who won Ohio 51-47, took these two larger counties in 2008.

Looking at the Presidential elections of 2004 and 2008, we can look at the big three I-71 counties:
Hamilton (Cincinnati) – Kerry 47%, Obama 52%
Franklin (Columbus) – Kerry 54%, Obama 59%
Cuyahoga (Cleveland) – Kerry 66.6%, Obama 68.5%

Other medium-large counties that are slightly Democrat-leaning but otherwise good barometers of the state are:
Montgomery (Dayton): Kerry 50.6%, Obama 51.8%
Stark (Canton): Kerry 50.6%, Obama 50.2%

And finally there are the next two largest Bush-to-Obama counties (Hamilton is the largest):
Lake (east of Cuyahoga): Kerry 48.5%, Obama 49.3%
Wood (south of Toledo): Kerry 46.4%, Obama 52.5%

I will also be watching two House races to gauge any coat-tail strength.  OH-16 pits incumbents Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton.  On paper, the map favors Renacci but Sutton has put up a good fight and this race is currently a toss-up.  Also OH-06 is a 2010 rematch between Tea Party freshman Bill Johnson and the former Blue Dog Charlie Wilson.  This race is fought in those Ohio River counties that supported Obama in 2008 and Ted Strickland in 2010.  Johnson is favored, but if Wilson makes it close then it may also show strength in this region for Barack Obama.

Finally we have a Senate race which has seen the young Treasurer Josh Mandel slowly… slowly… creep up in the polls.  He is a clear underdog.  There have been both positive and negative ads on both sides, but there is simply little Josh Mandel traction.  If he is winning this race, then a Romney victory is practically a sure thing.  Sherrod Brown has built enough strength to survive a Mitt Romney Ohio victory; the same cannot be said of Josh Mandel with an Obama victory.

So there we go.  I expect Ohio to be a frustrating state to watch on election night, but log onto the Secretary of State’s website and look at these county percentages to see where Ohio is going well before it is called.

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