ANALYSIS: Ohio, Key to 2012

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ANALYSIS: They are 18 of the most important electoral votes anywhere on the battleground state map, and they belong to Ohio where Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan kick off a multi-city bus tour today.

Romney was last in Ohio on September 14, and his last bus tour was with Ryan right after the vice presidential announcement on August 11.

But the GOP ticket faces an uphill battle in the Buckeye State, which has emerged as the most troublesome of the tossup states for Romney. A Washington Post poll out today put President Obama's edge in Ohio at eight percentage points, 52 percent to 44 percent, over his Republican challenger.

If Romney doesn't win the state, it means he needs to run the table in almost all of the seven other battlegrounds, winning Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada. Obama, on the other hand, can afford to lose Ohio and Florida as long as he wins Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia. As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out: No Republican has won the presidency without Ohio. If Romney loses Florida and Ohio it is impossible for him to win.

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Romney advisers in Boston contend that Obama's boost in the polls defies political gravity. In Ohio, one Romney strategist said, voters don't feel a real difference in the economy which suggests that the bump in Obama's standing is more of a short term sugar boost instead of a suggestion of a long-term trend. There is nothing that is "underpinning the economic optimism," one Romney adviser noted.

A recent Ohio Newspaper Organization-Cincinnati Enquirer poll found that on the question of "are you better off today than you were four years ago," just 23 percent said they were better off. Even so, voters are feeling better about their own personal standing than they were in 2008. Back then, the Ohio Newspaper poll found that almost half (47 percent) said they were worse off. Today it is down 11 points to 36 percent.

At an appearance in Lima, Ohio yesterday Ryan sought to speak the crowd's language: "Not only do I like to hunt and fish, I like to hunt and fish in Ohio, because I'm a graduate of Miami University of Ohio," Ryan said to applause, "and there's some good hunting and fishing around there."

And in an interview with ABC's Emily Friedman, Romney previewed his message for the week ahead -- including the Ohio bus tour today and tomorrow.

"I'm going to be speaking about the same topics I have in the past, but I'm going to make sure that people understand that this is a different direction for the nation and that if they want the status quo," Romney said. "They can re-elect the person who has been leading us over the last four years. If they instead want to see this country go on a path that creates jobs and rising incomes, then they're going to have to vote for real and positive change, and that's what I represent."

But Romney's going to have some competition getting that message across. President Obama descends on the state on Wednesday hitting Bowling Green and Kent.