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Kerry Trailing Bush in Battleground Ohio

Of all the bad news for Sen. John Kerry (search) in recent days, perhaps nothing stung quite as much as this: He's trailing President Bush in Ohio.

The Buckeye state and Florida are Kerry's two biggest and best opportunities for overcoming the Republican incumbent's advantages in the drive to 270 electoral votes. Since Bush took office, nearly 230,000 jobs have been lost and the unemployment rate has risen from 3.9 percent to 5.9 percent in Ohio — ripe targets for a challenger.

But the state has been trending Republican — and no GOP candidate has won the presidency without it — because of the conservative nature of Democrats and independents in rural Ohio and in the state's booming exurbs. Social issues such as gun control and gay rights cut against Democratic candidates.

Democrat Al Gore (search) lost the state by 3.6 percentage points in 2000 after deciding late in the fall to shift money and staff from Ohio to Florida, where the race was eventually decided. Hedging his bets, Kerry plans to spend $18.9 million in television commercials in those two states this fall, 37 percent of his $50 million investment in 14 battleground states.

But he plans to spend twice as much in Florida, $12.3 million, as in Ohio, $6.6 million. Advisers say that is not a signal of the campaign's priorities, only a reflection of the fact that Florida's advertising costs are more expensive. Just as many ads are targeting persuadable voters in Florida as in Ohio, they say.

By the Numbers:

20 — Electoral votes in Ohio

229,600 — How many fewer Ohioans are working now than when Bush took office

2 — Number of times Ohio has disagreed with the national vote in presidential elections since 1900.

2 (again) — Hall of Fame museums, for pro football in Canton and rock 'n' roll in Cleveland.

Quotable:

"If we're going to win Ohio, we're going to have to find voters who are willing to change or who haven't voted before." — Jennifer Palmieri, Kerry campaign spokesman.

"I think he needs to stay on message and leave his opponent alone to stay on his message." — Bush supporter Bill Hill, a salesman, when asked what the president had to do to win undecided voters. "Ohio's going to lean just enough toward the more conservative message and he's going to be able to close the deal."

"One of our officers had to go over to Iraq twice. He said it was called Operation Iraqi Freedom and we did that. Now we're dumping money over there for people who don't really want us. It really opened my eyes." — Bluffton police dispatcher Deb Weihrauch, a 30-year Republican who switched parties and says she is voting for Kerry.

"Every day we're averaging about 100 e-mails from people. About five of those 100 are pretty rough e-mails to me, calling me a turncoat." — Tom Terez of Upper Arlington, operator of a Web site called www.anotherrepublicanforkerry.com.

Notable:

Bush's great-grandfather, Samuel Bush, ran Buckeye Steel Castings in Columbus from 1905 to 1927. The company filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 2002 and re-emerged as Columbus Steel Castings.

What to Watch on Election Night:

Watch the battleground counties around cities like Columbus, Dayton, Springfield and Canton.

If an amendment to the Ohio Constitution that would prohibit gay marriage gets on the ballot, it could increase conservative turnout and help Bush, who supports such a ban in the U.S. Constitution.

Democrats have protested Ralph Nader's attempt to get on the Ohio ballot, saying too many of the 15,000 signatures submitted are invalid. He needs 5,000 to qualify.

In Ohio Four Years Ago:

Bush won by 3.6 percent, a victory built in large majorities near Cincinnati and in rural Ohio. Gore won most of the big cities, including the Cleveland area by 165,000 votes. Tradition has it that if a Democrat is to win the state, the Cleveland victory must be by at least 125,000 votes, but the 2000 experience is changing that assumption. Exit polling showed Bush prevailed among independent voters, and while 44 percent of the voters overall thought Bush didn't have the knowledge to be an effective president, 10 percent of those voted for him anyway.