CINCINNATI—On this Election Day it seems only a slight breeze could tilt the outcome in Ohio, the state most likely to be the deciding factor in the presidential race, toward one candidate or the other.
The race remains precariously balanced between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, with the most recent surveys of Ohio voters suggesting either a tie or a lead of a few percentage points for President Obama. Just a few thousand voters who show up at polls today—or who don’t—could decide Ohio, whose 18 Electoral College votes are crucial in Gov. Romney’s bid for the presidency.
On the ground, Romney supporters have been working feverishly over the past few days, weeks, and months to ensure conservative voters—and independents fed up with the status quo—indeed show up at the polls today.
Although the Obama campaign has triple the number of field offices in Ohio as Romney—137 versus 40—volunteers for both candidates say there’s been a drop in enthusiasm this year among Obama supporters. Republican energy, moreover, has increased: Romney volunteers reportedly made 19 times as many house visits in Ohio as supporters of Sen. John McCain did in 2008.
The effort has been especially intense in Hamilton County, which encompasses Cincinnati in the southwest corner of the state and is home to 800,000 people. One-fifth of the presidential candidates’ advertising expenses for Ohio has been spent here. Republicans have made tens of thousands of house visits in the county, and hundreds of thousands of phone calls (397,741 as of last Wednesday).
On Monday, at the Republican Party’s Westwood Victory Center, on the fourth floor of an office building in Cincinnati’s northwest corner, volunteers old and young dialed phone numbers of potential Romney voters, specifically asking them when they planned to vote on Tuesday: “In the morning, during the day, or in the evening?”
Although it’s a testimony to the tenacity of campaign workers, repeated calls and house visits have annoyed some residents. Charles Lenny Kleiner, who was one of a half-dozen volunteers working the Victory Center phone bank when I arrived, said one woman he telephoned told him, “I’ll be glad when this election is over. My phone will stop ringing.” Kleiner said he gets about 10 political calls a day himself.
At 66, Kleiner has a full white beard he occasionally dyes black in order to give Abraham Lincoln impersonations. (I mistook him for Lincoln when he handed me a business card with a photo.) This year is the first time he’s volunteered for a presidential campaign. Kleiner is Catholic, a Vietnam veteran, and said he’s helping the Romney campaign “mostly because of abortion and birth control. [Obama] was forcing that on the Catholics.”
Four sophomores from a local public high school also made phone calls. Rebekah Santel said her U.S. history teacher made students spend 10 hours volunteering for a campaign as part of their coursework. Most classmates chose to help Democratic campaigns, but Santel and about half a dozen others chose Republicans. (Santel said she was a fan of Republican Steve Chabot, an incumbent U.S. representative from Ohio who is campaigning for reelection here.) For the 15-year-old sophomore, making campaign calls has been a learning experience: “People are so rude! But there are some people who are like, ‘Yay! Romney!’”
It terms of dedication, few match Jim and Vickie Moser, 66 and 56 respectively, who said they knocked on around 300 doors Monday, asking residents if they were voting Republican. The couple has made more than 10,000 house visits since they began campaigning during the first week of October. “People know us by name at different doors because we’ve knocked at the same doors so many times,” Vickie said. Some get to meet their 9-year-old Saint Bernard, Max, as well. “He eats Democrats,” said Jim.
The surprise is that the Mosers are not from Cincinnati but Santa Barbara, Calif. After setting out on a yearlong tour of the United States in August, they decided to interrupt their trip in order to help swing the Ohio vote toward Romney. After walking six days a week for five weeks, they’ve both lost weight, and Jim’s new brown Nike running shoes already have mud stains and a worn heel.
The Mosers are concerned about the sour economy’s effect on families. They said they made house calls in one run-down Cincinnati neighborhood that smelled of sewer and had broken sidewalks: “There were multiple generations we saw and they were all living in the same state of depression,” Vickie said. “It seemed like they had been betrayed. That’s what it felt like.”
Jim, who said he grew up poor and came out of a difficult family situation himself, added, “I just don’t believe government is the answer for that type of stuff.”
In 2008 Obama won Hamilton County, normally a Republican stronghold, by 21,000 votes—thanks to enthusiasm among union workers and African-Americans, and an apparent lack of excitement for Sen. McCain among conservative voters. Four years later, the Obama presidency’s effect has been to energize Republicans.
“The enthusiasm against Obama is just overwhelming,” said Will Riddle, a 34-year-old evangelical who moved to Cincinnati from Boston four years ago to assist with a church plant. Last Friday night Riddle and a friend, volunteering for the Ohio Christian Alliance, dropped off voter’s guides at 60 area churches in a blitz that began at 6:30 and finished at 11:30. Riddle planned to work as a poll watcher for the Romney campaign on Tuesday.
“It’s very clear to me that Obama has a Marxist agenda for America,” he said. “I’m just looking for any opportunity to slow this train down.”
Ohio’s polls will close at 7:30 EST on Tuesday evening. As of Friday, more than 1.6 million Ohioans had already voted early or mailed in absentee ballots, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office.