Voting History Makes Ohio Key for Bush, Kerry

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - The Kerry-Edwards Democratic presidential ticket wasted no time Wednesday focusing on a state that no Republican has ever lost while winning the presidency.

Furthermore, since Ohio residents first cast presidential ballots in 1804, the year Thomas Jefferson was re-elected to a second term, the Buckeye State has voted with the winning candidate 82 percent of the time.

The last time Ohio's Electoral College votes went to the loser was in 1960 when the state chose Republican Richard Nixon over Democrat John F. Kennedy. Kennedy won the overall election in one of the closest races in American history.

The six states with more Electoral College votes than Ohio - California (54), New York (33), Texas (32), Florida (25), Pennsylvania (23) and Illinois (22) - have each voted with the loser in at least one out of the last three elections.

Florida's votes went to Republican George H. W. Bush in 1992, when he was defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton. Texas' votes went to the losing candidates in the 1992 and 1996 elections. California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois all voted for Al Gore in 2000.

Jason Mauk of the Ohio GOP explained the state's uncanny accuracy. "Ohio has always been an accurate bellwether state," he said. "We have a geographic and demographic diversity here that tends to mirror the nation as a whole."

Ohio State University professor emeritus and author Dr. Herb Asher called Ohio "a microcosm of the country in terms of economic makeup." And except for its below-average Hispanic population, he said, Ohio is also reflective of the nation's racial mix.

Asher said elections in Ohio are hard to call because both parties have a strong presence in the state.

"You can trace Democratic/Republican competition back to the post-Civil War era," he said. "We've always been a state that has had two strong parties."

Ohio did vote for Clinton in the presidential races of 1992 and 1996, but Republicans dominate the state's most powerful political positions today. Bob Taft is the governor. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich are the state's two U.S. senators.

Mauk said because the race is always close in Ohio, candidates spend a lot of time and money in the state.

"If you look at the current electoral map, the Democrats need to win all of the states that they won in 2000 plus one additional large electoral state. So, obviously all eyes are on Ohio because of the close nature of the race in 2000," he said.

Asher said it may be "partly coincidence" as to why no Republican presidential candidate has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. "But it turns out it is a historical fact, so therefore people try to create it into some sort of law," he said.

"This year it's hard to imagine that President Bush can be re-elected without carrying Ohio," Asher concluded, not because of tradition, but because of the likelihood of another close election.

A Zogby poll released in late June showed President Bush with a 5.5 percent lead over Kerry.

"But polls are snapshots in time, and obviously we don't rest our entire effort on what the polling shows from one day to the next," Mauk told

"We think it's going to be a very close outcome here, as it will be nationally, and we're prepared for a very aggressive grassroots effort," he added.

Asher said that in spite of recent polls showing Bush ahead, "My own sense right now is that I'd give Kerry a slight advantage in Ohio." The Ohio economy, he said, "is not recovering at the same rate as the national economy."

Despite Ohio's history of accuracy in voting, Mauk said the state's Electoral College votes could go to either candidate.

"I think Ohio is a very strong indicator of national trends," he said, "but obviously with the way elections are determined by the Electoral College it's certainly possible that [Bush] could lose Ohio and win the nation or lose the nation and win Ohio," he said.

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