Politics Counts: Spotlight on 5 Ohio Counties

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As the presidential race has narrowed to become a dead heat, one state in particular has risen to the top of the most important battlegrounds: Ohio. Both campaigns see it as the linchpin to securing 270 electoral votes and both candidates and their surrogates are racking up the frequent flier miles to the Buckeye State.

As we have noted in this space before, Ohio is a complicated terrain, with different regions holding different kinds of voters – it is big cities and suburbs, college hubs and small towns. It’s difficult to get a handle on, which is one reason why is always seems to be a battleground. In the last five presidential elections, its vote has gone with the Democratic candidate three times and the Republican twice – and always, with the winner.

But when you look closely at the state, there may be five counties that are particularly worth watching: three in the corridor between Cleveland and Toledo (Wood, Ottawa and Sandusky), one in the state’s middle (Tuscawaras) and one in its southwestern corner (Hamilton).

 

If Ohio is to be the center of the political universe for the next few weeks, those five counties will offer an important indicator of the it is spinning on Nov. 6. Set in different parts of the state, those five counties might be seen as Ohio’s bellwethers for different reasons, but taken together the vote in them will tell us a lot.

Wood, Ottawa and Sandusky Counties

 

Like the other counties listed here, it’s not that these three control the fate of Ohio – the total population in them is only about 225,000 – but ratherthat the vote in them in indicative of larger trends in the state with key demographic groups. Wood and Ottawa have sided with the winner in every presidential election since 1992 and Sandusky, which borders them, has done so in four of the five campaigns.

Largely stationed along the Ohio Turnpike, east of Toledo, these three counties have a lot of older white residents. That can swing the vote in them toward the GOP. But they also hold a lot of jobs – and retirees – connected to automobile manufacturing and to auto unions. That may make them a challenge for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, as his now infamously headlined opinion piece “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” is surely known here.

When the Democratic candidate wins these three counties there is usually a solid blue line in the population center across the top of the state along Lake Erie Ohio from Toledo to Cleveland. The map shows how often Democrats have won each of the counties in Ohio in presidential elections since 1992 – the darker the blue, the more often they have won. For the rest of this Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's website.