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An anti Obama sign near the coal burning power plant in Conesville, Ohio Oct 17, 2012. Anti-coal policy changes by President Barack Obama which have become a major election issue for the people in the area as they struggle to keep jobs. (Mow Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

An anti Obama sign near the coal burning power plant in Conesville, Ohio Oct 17, 2012. Anti-coal policy changes by President Barack Obama which have become a major election issue for the people in the area as they struggle to keep jobs.

(Mow Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Obama needs Ohio, but Ohio is not so sure it needs Obama anymore Add to ...

To be sure, though, many Obama supporters are hanging tough. In a rich-smelling Westerville chocolates shop, a pair of what pollsters call “waitress moms” in their 30s dispense an excellent coffee, pack up gift boxes and talk politics.

Anna Nelson, a single mother, originally from Iowa, is sticking with Mr. Obama. “I only vote on social issues,” she said, referring to gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose whether to abort a pregnancy. “These are the things that matter most.”

“If Romney wins,’ she said, “I told my [teenage] daughter we’re moving to Scandinavia.”

Her colleague, Kirsten Heft, a registered Democrat born in Columbus, also will vote again for Mr. Obama, though she acknowledges that the quality of life in the area has taken a hit in recent years. “Protecting the middle class is my biggest concern,” said the mother of two teenage children.

The biggest question facing the Obama campaign is whether it can get supporters to the polls on election day (and in early balloting), especially in its northern stronghold. Indeed, the Obama campaign this week opened its 125th constituency office in the state, about double the number of the Romney campaign, in the hope that the organization’s ground game can get the President across the goal line.

On Thursday evening, Mr. Obama used Air Force One as a backdrop for a spirited rally at Cleveland’s waterfront airport intended to rally the area troops to get out the vote. Last week, also in the Cleveland area, it was the tandem of Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen who worked the crowd on Mr. Obama’s behalf.

But the amount of time and the quantity of money for TV ads the two presidential campaigns are spending in traditional Democratic strongholds suggest that the Obama campaign has no lock on this support. Just on Wednesday, Romney running mate Paul Ryan waded into Democratic Cleveland and gave a major speech denouncing the poverty that has gripped the city on Mr. Obama’s watch, even with the auto bailout.

Mr. Romney is benefiting from the kind of support among this group that once was enjoyed by Ronald Reagan, when so-called Reagan Democrats turned to the Republican candidate. In Ohio, it’s happening in this eastern coal country.

In nearby Hopedale, Hooty Mckee, a fiftysomething coal miner, his face still blackened from his underground shift, said the Obama policies “made me change my vote [from Democrat to Republican]” for the first time. Others nodded in agreement, though none of the rest would give his name.

Though Mr. Romney vows to ease the federal regulations against the mining and burning of coal, the shift in support for the former Massachusetts governor is more by default than because of any particular affection for a man seen by many here as elitist. The election in Ohio has become a referendum on the Obama presidency, and Mr. Romney is benefiting from the strong disaffection so many in this constituency are feeling.

It was in Ohio in 1980 that Ronald Reagan turned around that year’s election campaign against another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. During the debate in Cleveland, Mr. Reagan asked if people were better off then than they were four years before, when Mr. Carter took office.

The answer, in the negative, led to a great many white, middle-class Americans breaking Democratic ranks and supporting the Republican.

All these years later, Ohioans are once again asking themselves the same question about another Democratic president, and their answer may well decide his national fate.

By the numbers

11,544,951 - Estimated population of Ohio in 2011.

83.6 - Percentage of Ohio population identifying as white in 2011, with 12.4 per cent identifying as black and 3.2 per cent as Hispanic.

18 - Ohio’s cache of votes in the electoral college, out of the 270 a candidate would need to win.

1960 - The last year in which the winner of the presidential race did not win in Ohio.

58,235 - The number of presidential-race TV ads that aired in Ohio between Sept. 24 and Oct 24.

$57-million - Amount (U.S.) the Obama campaign had spent on Ohio ads as of Oct. 24.

$34-million - Amount the Romney campaign had spent on Ohio ads as of Oct. 24.

10 - The number of times Barack Obama and/or Joe Biden visited Ohio in the 30 days up to Oct. 24.

21 - The number of times Mitt Romney and/or Paul Ryan visited Ohio in the same period.

2.1 - The number of points, on average, by which Mr. Obama led Mr. Romney in Ohio polls as of Friday, down from a 5.2-point lead a month earlier.

4.6 - The number of points by which Mr. Obama beat John McCain in Ohio in 2008.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Bloomberg News, USA Today, Real Clear Politics, NBC News (TheGrio.com), CNN Politics.

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