PARMA, Ohio – Sen. John Kerry (search) has 237,400 reasons for hope in Ohio.
That's the number of jobs Ohio has lost since President Bush won the state by 3.6 percentage points four years ago. Ohioans consider jobs and the economy their top concern, with terrorism and homeland security close behind.
But some advisers to the Democratic presidential candidate say they are beginning to wonder whether enough Ohioans will blame Bush for the economy. That may make another statistic more important — 37, the number of Ohio soldiers killed in Iraq.
"Everybody knows somebody who is in Iraq, just got back from Iraq or is going to Iraq," Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (search), told supporters at a question-and-answer session before debating Vice President Dick Cheney (search) on Tuesday night.
Still, a mid-September poll by Mason-Dixon said a majority of state voters, 53 percent, approved of Bush's decision to wage war. Across the street from Edwards' rally, Irene Sandor, 78, stood on her porch watching all the fuss. She has a star on her door, signifying her grandson's service in Iraq.
"I don't think it's gone all that well, but I think the president did what he had to do," said Sandor, who plans to vote for Bush because she says she doesn't trust Kerry to protect the country.
As in other battleground states, the president has the edge on national security, with Ohio voters believing the country is much less likely to be struck by terrorists under Bush than Kerry.
Ohio and Florida, with a combined 47 electoral votes, give Kerry his best opportunity to claim major states won by Bush in 2000. No Republican has ever won the presidency without Ohio. A few Democrats have done it, but Kerry's options would be dramatically reduced without the Buckeye state.
Polls show the race tight, but Kerry's advisers believe they trail by a percentage point or two. Steve Ricchetti, a former top adviser in the Clinton White House, was dispatched to the state this month to help sharpen the campaign effort amid concerns locally that the state strategy was being driven too much by Kerry's consultants in Washington.
BY THE NUMBERS:
0 — Nonjudicial Democratic state officeholders.
237,000 — Jobs lost since Bush took office.
29 — Ohio-based companies on the Fortune 500 list.
53,000 — Number of Amish living in Ohio, the most of any state.
— "If it had not been for 9/11, he would not have any platform to stand on. They're trying to scare people into voting for them." — Retired electrical worker Dennis Potter, about the Bush campaign.
— "I think that all of Cuyahoga County should vote for George Bush, including the inner city, to be free from the tyranny of the Democrats who have destroyed the inner city of America." — David Tryon, a Republican living in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County.
— "They have to give me a reason. I can hear all the wonderful talk. I want to see the action." — Shirley Merriman of Chillicothe, an undecided voter.
Cleveland was the site of the only debate between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential campaign, when Reagan asked a question in his closing statement that has resonated with voters ever since: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"
WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:
If the race is close, the counting of provisional ballots could be a key issue. The ballots are given to registered voters who have moved but have not updated their registrations. Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has ordered election boards to send voters who show up at the wrong polling place to the correct polling place instead of letting them cast a provisional ballot, prompting a lawsuit from Democrats.
Ralph Nader's removal from the Ohio ballot is expected to help Kerry. The Nader campaign is appealing the state's ruling, which said forged signatures on petition forms left the independent candidate short of the 5,000 required to qualify.
IN OHIO FOUR YEARS AGO:
Franklin County — including Columbus, the state capital — was the biggest battleground, with Democrat Al Gore beating Bush by fewer than 5,000 votes out of 400,000 cast. Bush received 56 percent of the votes in Hamilton County, including Cincinnati, and his margins were even bigger in neighboring counties. Bush won the state by 3.6 percentage points.