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Obama-Romney Race May Hinge on 2 Ohio Counties

By Erin McPike - October 26, 2012

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And given that disparity, it’s obvious why the president staged the rally he did there on Thursday night: His team is looking to run up the score in this densely concentrated area.

Romney knows this all too well, of course, which is why he is charging hard to offset that advantage with a heavy presence in the southwestern corner of Ohio, where Cincinnati is located.

When the GOP nominee arrived late Wednesday night, he whipped up some local TV coverage by letting the media aboard to capture him stepping off his plane at the small Lunken Airport, where Republican Sen. Rob Portman was waiting to greet him. (It didn’t get nearly the same treatment on Cincinnati TV as the president’s “historic” rally did on Cleveland TV, demonstrating the benefit of incumbency in granular -- but potentially pivotal -- ways. Nonetheless, for Romney, every mention and extra few seconds of footage can help.)

On Thursday morning, the former Massachusetts governor held a rally for about 4,000 supporters in a factory called Jet Machine in Bond Hill. That’s in Hamilton County, the state’s third largest jurisdiction behind Cuyahoga and Franklin (where Columbus is located).

Unlike Obama, who is trying to firm up his support, Romney is working to generate enthusiasm. He frequently told the Cincinnati audience that his campaign is about “big change,” big things and big ideas.

“For the last year, and four debates, three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, the president's been looking for a plan,” Romney said. “He hasn't been able to find a plan. He hasn't been able to define what he's going to do to make America strong going forward. I have.”

Though Hamilton County is a bit smaller than the two Obama strongholds, it still boasts about 800,000 residents. That means Hamilton has a larger population than that of four states -- Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

The demographics of the county mirror the state more closely than Cuyahoga does, although it is similarly home to a higher proportion of African-Americans, at about 25.8 percent. An Obama aide in Ohio told RCP this week, “We will win Hamilton County,” and returning it to the Democratic column could well be the difference if the election remains close.

In 2008, Obama won about 225,000 of the county’s votes compared with 196,000 for his opponent, a much slimmer difference than in Cuyahoga, of course. But two years later, Strickland lost Hamilton to Kasich in the governor’s race, 140,000 votes to 126,000. The voter registration stands at about 564,000.

Central to the Obama team’s thinking is that this is a presidential election, not a midterm, and they’ve built a stronger network of support since Strickland’s loss. They expect to score more votes because they’ve determined where the less-likely voters are, and if those voters don’t cast ballots early, they will drag them to the polls on Election Day. Already, the campaign is building a significant lead among Ohioans who have voted early.

Both sides acknowledge that the president is ahead here, but the Romney campaign issued a memo Thursday afternoon asserting that the race is still very much in play and that they can win it.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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