Obama Zeroes in on the Heart of the Rust Belt

“There is not an inch of Ohio that the president does not love to visit.”

-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

President Obama should be feeling pretty good about Ohio as he arrives there today.

The state’s economy has rebounded in a way that the country’s as a whole has not. Labor unions remain a powerful political presence in the state. He leads in the Real Clear Politics average of polls in the state by almost 5 points.

And since Ohio remains the most important swing state – a national bellwether that has picked the winning candidate in every election since 1960 – this all looks good for the president.

Certainly, Obama’s position is better now than his predecessor’s was at the start of August. In 2004, George W. Bush was in a see-saw battle with John Kerry. Romney hasn’t led in an Ohio poll for two months. The race remains tight, but Obama’s lead seems to be fairly stable.

So why then, does the president lavish so much attention on the Buckeye State when there are 11 swing states that might benefit from his ministrations? Obama has visited the state three out of the past four weeks and will be back again soon.

The answer lies with the white, blue-collar voters of the state. This is Obama’s most difficult demographic and it happens that they are in large supply in the Buckeye State. Nearly 40 percent of the voters in 2008 exit polls in Ohio were white folks who did not attend college.

That’s why Obama’s big event today is in Akron, a Democratic bastion in Northwestern Ohio. Summit County is one of the bluest in the state, having gone for Republicans only twice in the modern era – the re-election landslides of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
While neighboring Stark County, home to Akron’s twin city of Canton, is a true swing County, there’s nothing purple about Akron, home to what remains of the heart of America’s tire industry.

Obama opted to hold his first event in Mansfield, a medium-sized city halfway between Cleveland and Columbus on Interstate 71. This was likely to try to make a splash in the state’s two largest media markets. Of course, Team Obama no doubt regrets having the president fly into a National Guard airbase slated for closure in the presidents next round of proposed military cuts.

But Mansfield and Richland County with some 60,000 votes are small fries compared to the huge trove of votes to the north and east.  The Akron-Canton metro region boasts 10 times as many votes and is part of the larger Cleveland-Cuyahoga Valley metroplex that holds the state’s largest cache of votes.

It is also the most economically vulnerable part of the state. The death of major manufacturing in the United States has been crushing the northeast quadrant of Ohio for decades and a drive through Akron, Canton, Youngstown and Warren shows the price. Rusting hulks of formerly mighty steel mills and tire plants are everywhere. Main streets are empty.

This makes a receptive audience to Obama’s attacks on Republican Mitt Romney as an outsourcer, since there is tremendous resentment in the area at the foreign competitors whose cheap labor and lax environmental regulations have largely wiped out the steel and rubber industries in the region.

But there is also the fact that if the gathering economic slowdown kicks in, these voters will be among the first to be feeling the pain. Even if Romney can be made into the “vampire,” Obama has cast him as, conditions dire enough might drive Democrat leaning voters to look for a change.

Whoever wins that part of Ohio will likely win the state. Whoever wins Ohio, will likely win the presidency. Obama’s plan seems to be to cater to union households and maximize turnout in heavily Democratic precincts. Romney, meanwhile, will be looking for the smaller towns and cities, combined with the Cleveland suburbs to cobble together a win.

If you had to pick the most important part of the political battlefield, this year the counties of Northeastern Ohio would be hard to top.

Quote of the Day

“Because of the Citizens United decision, Karl Rove and the Republicans are looking forward to a breakfast the day after the election. They are going to assemble 17 angry old white men for breakfast, some of them will slobber in their food, some will have scrambled eggs, some will have oatmeal, their teeth are gone. But these 17 angry old white men will say, ‘Hey, we just bought America. Wasn’t so bad. We still have a whole lot of money left.’”

-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the Huffington Post discussing the chance Republicans will take the majority in the Senate this fall.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I must say it’s a gracious apology [from White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer].  I was stunned.  I didn’t expect it to happen.  I actually wrote in my column I thought the nationals would win the World Series before I’d see an apology.  Now I suppose the Nationals aren’t going to win the World Series.  But it’s a gracious apology.  They are still clinging to a tiny point on this, but the argument is over, and I appreciate that the correction and retraction.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.