Obama Makes Ohio Focus of Post-Caucus Push

CLEVELAND - After a Hawaiian holiday hiatus, President Obama resumes his campaign to claim the mantle of " warrior for the middle class" with a speech here today, wasting no time after the Iowa Caucus to put his mark on the national political debate.

Visiting a suburban high school where he held a town hall meeting about his health care reform push two and a half years ago, Obama will chart his course into the polarized political landscape of 2012, highlighting a philosophical divide with Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail, a theme he first rolled out last fall.

Obama will redouble "his commitment to do everything he can as president, working with Congress and independently from Congress, to grow the economy and create jobs, to protect the middle class, to expand it and to make the middle class more accessible to those who aspire to it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday.

But the talking points aside, Obama's visit to the Buckeye State - his fourth since announcing a bid for re-election in April - also underscores what his re-election campaign believes will be ground zero for a tough re-election battle in November.

Obama won Ohio by five points over John McCain in 2008, carrying 52 percent of the vote. But his support there has significantly waned.

Fifty-five percent of Ohioans in a Quinnipiac University poll last month said they disapproved of how Obama has handled his job. And in hypothetical general election match-ups with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, Obama is statistically tied.

No candidate for president since 1960 has won a general election without carrying Ohio.

"The White House is very concerned about the Buckeye State because of the large numbers of whites without college educations - a group among which Obama has been doing poorly," said Peter A. Brown, with the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in a statement last month.

"The GOP, however, has some fence-mending to do in the state because of the strongly negative image the party picked up in a bitter fight over the state budget and union rights," he added.

Obama's campaign team has sought to capitalize on the dynamic, scoring early grassroots organizing victories in the state to effectively table a new law that would have shortened the early voting period - which has historically helped Democrats - and repeal a Republican-sponsored state law that limited collective bargaining rights.

"We've probably done more work on the ground in Ohio in 2011 than any other state in the country," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in a recent online video.

"Our goal is to win Ohio, but it shouldn't be the only way" to 270 electoral votes, he added, tacitly acknowledging that a win there is far from guaranteed. Messina has highlighted five potential paths to winning the electoral map in November. Only one of those banks on a win in Ohio.

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