Ohio: The Ultimate Battleground State

In the last century, Ohio has predicted the outcome of nearly every presidential election, which is why the Buckeye State may be the ultimate bellwether when it comes to the nation's politics.

If Sen. John McCain wants to make 1600 Pennsylvania his home, he has to put Ohio in the red, because no Republican presidential candidate has ever won the election without it. And critics have said Ohio is a must-win for Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Ohio has only voted twice in the last hundred years for the losing presidential candidate — going for Richard Nixon over John Kennedy in 1960 and for Thomas Dewey over Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.

Running in Ohio is an intricate process, because campaigning there is like running in separate states.

State regions — the northeast, the northwest, the Cleveland area and the old Rust Belt — are drastically different.

In the middle of the state lies the capital, Columbus, which is prime swing-vote territory. It's home to white-collar workers and suburbs. The southeast section of the state is Appalachia, where white rural voters are suffering in the turbulent economy and where racism may be a factor for Obama.

In Canton, the home of the Football Hall of Fame, located about an hour's drive from Cleveland, two 20-something women wage differing battles on any given night.

Jen Thrasher, who is the McCain campaign's regional director, has technology on her side and uses the phone as her secret weapon to woo voters.

VoIP phones have been used by volunteers to beam data to McCain headquarters in real time. Using the Internet broadband telephone service, volunteers place more than 4,000 calls nightly to microtarget constituents. On one recent night, they called Republican-leaning voters, who received absentee ballots but have a low propensity to vote.

"They allow for real-time data collection," Thrasher said.

But the calls aren't always well received.

"I've been sworn at," said McCain volunteer Donise Pick. "I just say thank you for your time and hang up."

The Obama campaign is counting on sheer numbers to help the Illinois senator win the important region. It has 70 field offices in Ohio, compared with McCain's 40.

Jenn Brown, regional director for the Obama campaign, said the best weapon in the competition for voters is the neighbor-to-neighbor contact, because it shows "somebody who understands what you're going through, somebody who's facing the same economic challenges that you are."

The Obama campaign has volunteers beating the pavement and knocking on doors, and former teachers making signs.

Experts said the grassroots campaigning, phone calls and door-knocking might be able to add up to 1 to 2 percent on election day, which can decide a race. Just ask Al Gore or John Kerry.

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