Thursday, November 4, 2004
All those visits to SW Ohio paid off for the president
By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - Greater Cincinnati provided the margin of victory for George W. Bush, helping him win Ohio and another four years as president.
County by county, Bush's greatest vote margins in the state came from Butler (52,550), Warren (41,124), Clermont (36,376), Delaware (25,746) and Hamilton (24,683) counties, according to final, unofficial results.
All told, that's a 154,733-vote advantage for Bush in Cincinnati and surrounding counties. Bush won Ohio by 136,483 on Election Day, with provisional and overseas votes yet to be counted in official results.
"History will look back, and this area of the state will be credited with helping Bush win Ohio and the White House," said Eric W. Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll.
The numbers are a validation of Bush's strategy of concentrating on his Ohio base in the final days of the campaign. His biggest rally of the campaign happened in front of more than 40,000 people in West Chester. Bush came back to Cincinnati and Wilmington in the last two days of the campaign, rallying 50,000 more.
"The president owes a lot to southwest and western Ohio in terms of getting the campaign energized and getting the vote out," Rademacher said. "It has to be, for the candidate and the people running the campaign, an enormous shot of adrenaline to show up to a ballpark crowd that's full and has that amount of energy."
Those visits translated into turnout on Election Day.
"Those votes put us over the top," said Greg Hartmann, Hamilton County chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign. "You put that together with Southwest Ohio, and that made the difference in not only Ohio but the national election."
With few undecided voters and almost 5.6 million votes cast statewide by Election Day - 869,019 more than voted on Election Day 2000 - the 2004 Ohio contest became a matter of which side could get more of its voters to the polls.
"Bush ginned up his base pretty well," Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Brendon Cull conceded. "If we did better than any other Democrat that ever won in the state of Ohio, George Bush did better than any Republican ever did in the state."
At first blush, Kerry followed every rule on what a Democrat needs to do to win Ohio. Kerry won Cleveland huge, did better than any Democrat has ever done in Columbus and knocked down Bush's performance in Cincinnati by a percentage point.
But this election broke the rules.
The three counties where Kerry won the largest percentage of votes - Cuyahoga, Athens and Mahoning, in that order - ranked 76th, 84th and 71st in turnout, respectively. Bill Clinton carried Cuyahoga County by 177,587 votes over Bob Dole in 1996. Kerry won the state's largest county by 217,638 votes.
"That number in any previous election in Ohio would be insurmountable," Ohio Republican Party spokesman Jason Mauk said.
Rural voters provided another countervailing force to urban, rust-belt Democrats. Shelby County, which surrounds Sidney, had a turnout of 80 percent - and 71 percent of them voted for Bush.
The 54 Ohio counties with fewer than 50,000 registered voters had an average turnout of 71 percent, and Bush won those counties by a margin of 267,400 votes.
For those voters, a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage might have provided the extra motivation to go to the polls. In exit polls, 23 percent of Ohio voters identified "moral values" as the top factor in their decision - almost as many who cited the economy. Of voters concerned about morals, 85 percent voted for Bush.
"It does seem that Issue 1 brought out extra voters, and that contributed to Bush's margin of victory in the state," said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "This, as advertised, was a turnout election. Both sides were able to get their troops out. Republicans were able to do a better job."
Even Kerry paid homage to the "three G's" of rural voters: God, guns and gays.
On a mid-October bus tour through rural southern Ohio, Kerry visited Xenia, Chillicothe and a small farm in southern Pike County. That day, he went to church, professed his belief that "marriage is between a man and a woman - period" and bought a hunting license. A week later, he used that license to shoot geese outside Youngstown.
Rural voters also tend to be more patriotic than their urban counterparts and more likely to know someone in the military.
"People are obviously very concerned about changing in mid-stream. I understand that," Kerry said in an interview aboard his campaign bus that day.
Seventeen percent of Ohio voters responding to exit pollsters said "terrorism" was the most important issue in their vote. Of them, 90 percent voted for Bush - the biggest dominance of either candidate on any single issue.
For that reason, Rademacher said, the 2004 result in Ohio - and across the country - could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"History is going to evaluate this election in isolation because of the circumstances," he said. "We're in a war, and it's a war with no precedent in American history. It's a different kind of war. It's a war that was brought to American soil, and there's a real sense among Ohio voters that for the first time, the enemy can hit us where we live."
Staff writers Jim Siegel and Jennifer Edwards contributed.
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