Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Kerry effort falls short in Ohio

Small town by small town, Bush gained upper hand

By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer

COLUMBUS - Sen. John F. Kerry won Ohio's cities big, but still had trouble finding enough votes to overcome President Bush's overwhelming advantage in the suburbs and rural areas of the state.

Kerry got all the votes he should have needed from Cuyahoga County, swung Franklin County increasingly into Democratic hands, and managed to keep Bush's margin of victory in Hamilton County relatively low.

But small town by small town, suburb by suburb, Bush took enough votes to pull out a lead that, while not impossible, seemed daunting for Democrats.

Wednesday morning, Bush led Kerry, 51 percent to 49 percent.

"There are a great deal of rural voters out there," said Eric Rademacher, a pollster at the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research. "When you get outside the northeast and the southwest into some of these other regions of the state, there are some real differences on the issues."

Turnout could tell part of the story. Despite unprecedented attention to Ohio during the campaign and long lines on Election Day, the turnout number seemed headed for a point slightly less than the official 5.8 million predicted by state election officials.

With half an inch to an inch of rain falling in most areas throughout the state, those million new registered voters didn't all show up.

In Hamilton County, Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Greg Hartmann claimed victory but acknowledged that the Kerry camp made things close.

"We took on a great organization," Hartmann said. "The Democratic Party put on a campaign like I've never seen before. We delivered Hamilton County for the president."

Hartmann predicted a victory margin of 40,000 for President Bush in Hamilton County. "I think there will be some legal wrangling, but I do believe the election will be over tonight in the country and in Ohio,'' Hartmann said.

Kerry-Edwards campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill would not concede defeat in a state that each side knew would be a decisive battleground. "The vote count in Ohio has not been completed. There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio,'' she said.

Rademacher said there was a great intensity in the campaign.

"I've consistently said that this year, I don't think anybody's going to be intimidated from going to the polls. There was a passion - and in some cases, an anger - driving people to the polls."

But Rademacher, while doing live analysis on WVXU-FM radio, complained of "excruciatingly slow" results that made any kind of intelligent analysis difficult.

With tens of thousands of provisional ballots still waiting to be counted, that could delay final results until they're verified within 10 days. Jason Mauk, communications director for the Ohio Republican Party, noted that provisional ballots tend to break Democratic.

Nearly all of Ohio's voters made their decision in the presidential race more than a month before Tuesday's election, and they split just about evenly for President Bush and Kerry, an Associated Press exit poll found.

Only about one in 10 voters entered the final week before the election without knowing whom they would choose, the AP said.

An almost identical number of Republicans and Democrats voted on Tuesday, according to the poll of 1,389 Ohio voters conducted for AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, higher for subgroups. The candidates' core groups of conservative and liberal supporters generally offset each other.

The two top issues in the state were the economy and moral values.

Kerry won a majority of those mentioning the economy, after running a campaign that tailored his speeches and advertising toward the issue in Ohio. More than 232,100 jobs in Ohio have been lost since Bush took office, and the unemployment rate was above the national average at 6 percent.

"I really felt the country was going in the wrong direction," said Kerry supporter Michael Wesbecher, 22, of Springfield.

Bush countered Kerry's advantage on the economy by gaining among voters who wanted a strong moral leader. He also did well among weekly churchgoers and evangelical and born-again Christians.

Voters also cited terrorism and the war in Iraq as the other issues that determined their vote.

Rita Osborne, 58, of Springfield, voted for Bush.

"I just have always felt that with the change in what happened after 9/11 that his leadership has led us in the right direction," Osborne said. "I just felt that George Bush is more consistent in carrying out what he says. I do have more confidence in him."

The Associated Press. E-mail

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