The eyes of the nation are on Hamilton County, Ohio. At least for another few days.
President Barack Obama carried the county in 2008, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so since 1964. Mitt Romney’s campaign is determined to win it back.
“One of the ways you swing a county like Hamilton County back is a lot of shoe leather,” said Scott Jennings, Ohio campaign director for the Republican presidential candidate. “We’re spending a lot of time there.”
The stakes are high. It’s the biggest battleground county in Ohio, the closely contested swing state considered likely to be crucial to winning the White House on Tuesday.
“Hamilton County is one of the most important places in America,” Jennings said.
On that point, both sides agree.
“Traditionally, Hamilton County has been a firewall for the GOP in Ohio, and when they lost here in 2008, it made a huge difference,” said Caleb Faux, executive director for the county Democratic Party. “If they lose it this year, their chances of carrying Ohio become very slim, and if they don’t carry Ohio, their chances of winning nationally are very slim.”
Both sides are focusing major get-out-the-vote efforts in Cincinnati and its suburbs, and the candidates, their running mates and surrogates have campaigned here frequently. There also has been heavy national news media presence.
Obama will lead a major rally Sunday at the University of Cincinnati basketball team’s arena. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan head a rally laden with GOP officeholders, past officials and star athletes this evening in West Chester, just over the county’s northern border and in the Cincinnati television market.
Obama got 225,213 votes in the county in 2008, nearly 30,000 more than John McCain. George W. Bush had 222,616 in 2004, nearly 23,000 more than John Kerry. Both carried Ohio.
Local Republicans say they have lost thousands of voters in the past couple of decades who have moved to suburbs in the neighboring counties of Butler, Clermont and Warren, fortifying a Republican stronghold.
Cincinnati has a second-term Democratic mayor, Mark Mallory, who’s a strong Obama supporter. This is also the home turf of Romney’s Ohio chairman, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who can call on a network of supporters built up since he first ran for Congress in 1993.