23 November 2014

The old presidential political truism  "how goes Ohio, so goes the nation" will likely hold true again this year, but there are other emerging "Ohios" as well.

One such state bandied about by pundits is Virginia, straddling the Mason-Dixon line to the south in much the same way the Buckeye State straddles it to the north.  With its rapidly sprawling share of the DC megalopolis giving it an increasingly "microcosm of America" character, Virginia has everything but the delegates - 13 to Ohio's 20 - to be a true kingmaker in the convoluted matrix known as the electoral college.

A better - and more surprising - pick for state-most-likely-to-be-the-next Ohio is tri-metro North Carolina, one state deeper in the south but with a demographic that mirrors Ohio's in many key ways.  

Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem are the Tarheel State's Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, and the exurban sprawl filling in the space between Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem is quite like that between Cincy and Cowtown. 

A similar mix of college town liberalism, mega-church conservatism, aging Reagan Democrats, blue collar casualties and distrust of government on both sides of the spectrum is seen in both states in about equal measure.

Yes, North Carolina is a coastal state not squarely planted in the nation's midsection like Ohio but it stretches so far west that some of it actually rolls under Ohio in longitude, and above some of Ohio's southernmost reaches in latitude.

With 15 electors this year, fast-growing North Carolina is three quarters of the way to Ohio's delegation. But what really makes UNCvsDuke-land a potential Ohio is that this year, for the first time in nine presidential elections, North Carolina is in play.

You see it in the Ohio-like levels of campaign advertising choking the NC airwaves.

The Barack Obama team has had extensive field operations throughout the state for months, forcing John McCain operatives to divert resources here from more traditional battleground states like Pennnsylvania. 

One Obama foot soldier who knocked on my door in the lower-class Sunset Park section of Wilmington, said she was part of a large contingent of volunteers sent down from Obama-safe Boston.  No such representative from McCain has yet come knocking and by all accounts Obama is far better represented here.

The effort is paying off. 

Tens of thousands of new voters in all areas of the state but especially in Obama-friendly urban areas have been added to the rolls.

New polls, including Rasmussen on Sept. 23, have Obama leading 47% to 45%, a complete turnaround from a month ago when the Democratic candidate was behind by as much as 12 points.  And, as with all polls this year, cell phone-only respondents are not represented accurately and these voters make up the lion's share of new Obama-led registrations.

With campaign estimates of the cell-phone bounce at 3%, this means Obama may actually be ahead by 5% and maybe more as the new registrants into the politcal process are said to be highly motivated, angrily anti-Bush voters. They're not just in it for the free doughnuts.

Early voting is popular and easy here and the state is not likely to be hampered by the shenanigans that corrupted the Ohio voting process in 2000 and 2004.  This would seem to favor Obama. 

Another favorable sign for Obama is the curious dearth of signs, as in the lawn signs, bumper stickers and t-shirts one would expect to see just five weeks from one of the most historic and important elections ever

My gut tells me Obama supporters may not be wearing it on their sleeves as much because there is still a lot of racism down here, and fear of being stigmatized for openly supporting a bi-racial candidate could be keeping enthusiastic support under wraps until it counts.

But the lack of McCain signage?

Here, my gut tells me this is an indication of less support, far less, than Bush had here in 2004. 

With increasingly purple North Carolina vying to be the new Ohio, guess what? Georgia becomes the new North Carolina.  Recent polls in North Carolina's neighbor to the south show it coming into play in the homestretch, with some data putting Obama within five points of McCain.

With Virginia and North Carolina in the democratic column and Georgia a definate maybe, it is even conceivable that Barack Obama wins without Ohio. 

But not John McCain. As evidenced by his joint appearance with Sarah Palin Sept. 29 in Columbus, McCain is desperate to hold Ohio in the Republican column.

But he can't be in two places at once and if  McCain's up there, well, then McCain't down here.