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 firstname.lastname@example.org
OHIO ELECTION RESULTS:
Ohio provisional ballots may decide presidential election
Voters repeal amendment on gay rights
Ohio Supreme Court: GOP's justices appear to be buttressing majority
Voinovich has no trouble winning 2nd Senate term
Sycamore levy passes; four others fail
Kerry effort falls short in Ohio
Ohio Republicans aim to maintain grip in House, Senate
Ohio election briefs
Ohio Issue 1 passes
Turnout heavy in suburbs
MU students hit the polls
HAMILTON CO. RACES
Cincinnati school levy passes
Hospital tax leading despite opposition
CLERMONT CO. RACES
Clermont County: Republicans remain choice in early count
Clermont County tax issues: Long lines delay counting
BUTLER CO. RACES
Fairfield levy passes
Butler commission: All incumbents being returned
Butler levies: Support strong for health, social care funding
Butler County Sheriff: Jones likely successor to Gabbard
WARREN CO. RACES
Heavy turnout, long lines delay vote count
Kings levy passes by slim margin
Indiana governor: Daniels prevails after tough, costly slugfest
Ballot misprint may affect Ind. school board race
KENTUCKY ELECTION RESULTS:
Alexandria: Voters stick with City Council's six incumbents
Bellevue City Council: Two incumbents losing seats with 4 of 5 precincts counted
Covington: Sanders and Stricker joining City Commission
Campbell County: Ward holds on to retain seat on Circuit Court
Florence City Council: One newcomer, five incumbents win seats
Independence: Four who opposed insurance tax win
Newport: Mayor, all four on council will be keeping their seats
Suburban schools: Campbell, other area boards get fresh faces
Villa Hills, Taylor Mill: Taxes to fix, replace city streets rejected
Urban schools: Newcomer ousts incumbent, snags Newport board seat
N. Ky. election briefs
Popular president dominates Kentucky
Ky. Senate: Bunning wins - but race was close
Ky. House: This time around, Davis prevails
Issue One: Kentucky overwhelmingly says yes to no-gay-marriage
State's determined voters brave long lines, waits, rain
23rd Senate District: Westwood survives challenge by Groob
Ex-Gov. Carroll wins Frankfort seat
State Senate: Republican Thayer wins a full term in new seat
67th House District: Keene's win preserves spot for Democrats
IN THE TRISTATE
Shelter director traveled from needing to helping
Help Habitat by hiring yard rakers
Father inspired mission journey
Cone throw may bring legal action
Police dogs could get TV time at competition
Harrison man charged in auto fatals
Exhibit to spotlight 350 years of Judaism in America
Medal of Honor graves get special markers
Local news briefs
Neighbors news briefs
Good Things Happening
Gay Weber designed jet engines for GE
Time of change in Crestview Hills
Waltz or swing, timid students learn to let go
Florence Freedom has a deal
$545,000 grant to bolster Ky. health-care work force
N. Ky. news briefs
Jewelry gone after autopsy of corpse
N.Ky. schools' education guide available online
Murder counts filed in wreck that killed 2