By Darrel rowland
The Columbus Dispatch
Boosted by a surge among male voters who think he’s the best candidate to fix the economy, Republican Mitt Romney has come back to tie President Barack Obama in battleground Ohio.
They are deadlocked at 49 percent in the new Vindicator/ Ohio News Organization poll. Obama was ahead by 5 percentage points in the same poll published Sept. 16.
Obama’s lead in Northeast Ohio, the most Democratic portion of the state, took a big hit in the poll. Last month, Obama led Romney by 16 percentage points — 57 to 41 percent. But the new poll has the president up by 9 percentage points — 54 to 45 percent.
Also, Obama was ahead 51 to 46 percent in Northwest Ohio in last month’s poll. Romney leads 53 to 46 percent in that region in the latest poll.
How does that tie get broken in the next nine days?
“In the final days before the election, both campaigns will focus on turning out their bases, appealing to independents and attracting the few undecided voters that remain,” said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research, which conducted the poll for Ohio’s eight largest newspapers, including The Vindicator.
“Absent any more twists and turns, a remarkable presidential campaign may end with the campaign that executes the best ‘ground game,’ narrowly delivering Ohio for the next president of the United States.”
The Buckeye State, the nation’s top presidential bellwether since 1900, is always important in a presidential election. But this year may be giving Ohio voters an attention-surplus disorder, with more than 70 visits by presidential candidates or their running mates, unprecedented ad spending, and reporters from around the world fanning the state. Last week, a New York Times statistical analysis called Ohio more important than the other 49 states combined.
In the new poll, Obama wins support for his foreign policy and for pushing the auto-loan package for GM and Chrysler.
Of those polled, 29 percent said they’re more likely to vote for Obama because of the bailout with 21 percent less likely to vote for the president. Obama does a little better in northeast Ohio with 32 percent saying they’re more likely to vote for him because of the rescue while he remains at 21 percent less likely to vote for him in the region.
The president also benefits somewhat from damage to Romney from his secretly recorded remarks about the “47 percent” of Americans he said are dependant on the government.
But the former Massachusetts governor scores with his performance in the debates. And on the crucial question of who would do the best job handling the economy, Romney prevails by 6 percentage points among all voters — and 18 percent among independents. “If this poll reflects final voting patterns among Democrats and Republicans, Ohio’s independent voters may hold the keys to both Ohio and the presidency,” Rademacher said. “The poll suggests independent preferences may move around depending on whether they are asked about the economy as a whole, the president’s handling of the auto industry or the 47 percent issue.
“Even so, Romney’s current advantage among independents in perceptions of which candidate would do a better job handling the economy gives him a leg up on the issue as the candidates make their final appeals to independent voters.”
Male voters have swung sharply toward Romney in the past month. In September, he was winning by 2 points among men on who could best improve economic conditions in Ohio. Now, he’s up by 19 on a slightly different question, who can better handle the economy. Overall, his lead with men has jumped from 1 to 12 points.
Romney wants more voters like poll participant Wesley Allen, 41, a welder at southern Ohio’s Ripley Metal Works, where he said employees have worked with a 25 percent pay cut for almost two years. Allen said he voted for Obama in 2008.
“Four years ago, I made a mistake. I fell for the whole ‘change’ thing,” he said. “I got on the ‘change’ train. But there wasn’t any change.”
This year, Allen already has made plans with four co-workers to meet in front of his Ripley home at 6 a.m. on Election Day and go vote together — all for Romney.
“I honestly believe that Romney will, with his business sense, be able to get us out of this. Four years with Obama and we haven’t succeeded in anything.”
Obama wants more voters like respondent Bruce Meyer, 46, a sales director from Akron who said he is backing the president despite the country’s economic struggles.
“I sort of look at it as he inherited a mess. I remember how bad things were roughly four years ago. I put a lot of the blame on why things were so bad on the previous eight years,” Meyer said.
“I think we’re on the right course, and to change course now would be a big mistake.”
He said Romney’s remarks about the “47 percent” solidified his thinking.
“I don’t think he has any understanding whatsoever of raising a family and getting up and getting to work on a day-to-day and month-to-month basis. I just don’t think he gets people like me.” After months of negativity in campaign ads, mailers, automated phone calls and stump speeches, perhaps it’s not surprising that 61 percent of Ohio voters say they are “scared” about who may prevail in this year’s presidential election. But it’s an equal-opportunity fright: 29 percent say they would be scared if Romney wins, and the exact same percentage expresses fear if Obama gets a second term.
And then there’s the 3 percent who say they are scared no matter who wins.
Kevin Taylor, 39, of Monroe near Cincinnati, an attorney and account manager for a sales team, said he is voting for Romney as “the lesser of two evils.”
Taylor said he had high hopes for Obama four years ago, but they have been dashed, so now it’s time for a fresh start. But he worries how much of Romney’s experience “translates to a more global setting that the president would require.”
Taylor’s mirror image is Rosemary Crum, 68, a retired pharmacist from Pickerington, southeast of Columbus.
“Obama’s the lesser of two evils,” she said. “I’m not necessarily a supporter of Obama, but there’s something about Romney I just can’t stand. There’s nothing about him that says ‘trust me.’ His mouth says that, but nothing else.”
Nearly 1 in 5 Ohio voters said they already had cast an early ballot, and Obama was ahead among this group by 27 points, 63 percent to 36 percent. More Democrats than Republicans say they will “definitely vote.”
However, 58 percent of Republicans describe themselves as “very enthusiastic” about the election, compared with 48 percent of Democrats.
The poll — using both telephone land lines and cell phones — conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati between October 18 and Tuesday of 1,015 likely voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The response rate was 19.5 percent. The partisan composition of the randomly chosen respondents: 47 percent Democrat, 44 percent Republican, 10 percent independent. Rademacher said, “This is just inside the range of what we normally see from election to election, which varies between an advantage toward Democrats of plus-5 to an advantage toward Republicans of plus-5 among likely voters.”
Contributors: David Skolnick of The Vindicator, Jane Prendergast of The Cincinnati Enquirer and Randy Ludlow of The Columbus Dispatch