CLEVELAND – At least one Election Day prediction turned out to be right: Ohio was the king of the swing states.
Correctly forecasting which way the Buckeye State would turn — and why — was another matter.
Voters in search of moral strength and security overlooked the loss of 280,000 jobs to re-elect President Bush in a close but ultimately orderly contest that ended Wednesday with Sen. John Kerry (search) conceding, "There won't be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio, and therefore we cannot win this election."
For nearly two years, Ohioans were bombarded with campaign commercials, candidate visits, volunteers at their doors and celebrities on their telephones. A relentless media reminded the world that the nation's future hinged on how went this bellwether.
Bush had won Ohio by 3.6 percentage points four years ago and enjoyed statewide Republican leadership, but the loss of manufacturing and other jobs loomed during his term and drew the attention of Democrats nationwide.
"They saw this was a state that was having problems," said Dan Trevas, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party. "People were unhappy with the way the war was going in Iraq, the economy was struggling and we had won it before with Bill Clinton. It was worth giving it a shot."
Forty-five times just this year Bush and Kerry visited the state — from its rural regions to its burgeoning suburbs and populous cities.
Kerry hung his hopes on the economic cloud hanging over the state and high voter turnout in big Democratic cities. Bush believed he could build on his lead in 2000, particularly by growing Republican registration and securing his suburban success.
Both sides — and dozens of outside groups — registered about 900,000 voters. Ohioans cast 2.8 million votes for Bush and 2.7 million for Kerry.
Associated Press exit polling shows Kerry didn't get the number of young voters he expected, and moral values turned out to be just as important as the economy. Voters said keeping them safe was the most desirable quality in a candidate.
Even with decisive Republican victories in other state races, no one was ready to declare Ohio's battleground days over.
"Ohio is not a gimme Republican state," said GOP spokesman Jeff Flint.