WESTERVILLE, Ohio In my next life, I want to be an undecided voter in Ohio.
Honest to gosh, can you imagine the love? If the Ohio Undecided Voter had a Twitter account, it would have 10 million followers. Each campaign would have an entire operation dedicated to watching it. People in China and Bulgaria who wanted to understand what's going on in this election would just check in with .IhavenoideainSteubenville.
"October 2! Voting starts! Are you ready?" Rep. Pat Tiberi hollered at a Mitt Romney rally in central Ohio Wednesday.
"Yeah," the crowd returned, rather weakly. The dim response couldn't have been because of a lack of commitment. These people were standing in line at dawn at hours before dawn to get in to see Romney and his celebrity guest endorser, golfer Jack Nicklaus.
"The Golden Bear is here because he gets it!" cried Sen. Rob Portman.
The Golden Bear was there to woo white male voters, the latest demographic that seems to be giving Romney trouble. Maybe the crowd sounded tentative because it knew the Republicans are definitely not ready. This week's Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll showed Romney running behind President Barack Obama 53 to 43 percent in the state.
Even among the elite brotherhood of swing states, Ohio is sort of special, particularly to Republicans. It is known, at least to the Ohio Historical Society, as the "Mother of Presidents," because eight inhabitants of the White House, all Republican, were from here. Admittedly, the first one lasted only four weeks, and the last one was Warren Harding.
No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. Asked if Romney could manage it, political director Rich Beeson retorted: "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas."
Everybody's an Ohioan. While Romney was at Westerville, Obama was winging his way toward appearances at Kent State and Bowling Green. Paul Ryan allowed reporters to watch him go shopping in Ohio for a camouflage jacket for his 10-year-old daughter, who he claimed was practicing to go hunting this fall. "I just need to get her some clothes," he explained.
People, would you consider this laying it on too thick? Even if Ryan's little girl really is dying to get out there and bag a deer, don't you think she'd want to try on her camouflage jacket before her father buys it? She might end up spending the entire fall in ill-fitting shooting gear.
Obama has been here so much over the last four years that he deserves honorary membership in that Mother of Presidents roll call. He likes to tell his audiences that "Gov. Romney said: 'Let's let Detroit go bankrupt.'" Then he quotes himself in the hour of crisis: "No, one out of eight jobs in Ohio depends on the auto industry."
Let's hope he's fibbing. I really do not want to think that in the middle of the financial meltdown, the president's first thought was what the collapse of the auto industry would mean to the big swing state. And if the pineapple industry runs into trouble, I don't want the White House's chief concern to be whether the voters of Ohio will be deprived of their upside-down cake.
Ohioans complain constantly about the burdens of swing-state status, particularly having to watch all those campaign ads. The rest of us are unsympathetic. My husband saw a presidential ad on ESPN the other day and was so excited that he taped it for me so we could watch it together and pretend we were the kind of citizens who need to be courted.
In Ohio, when you aren't seeing Romney-Obama ads, you are seeing ads for the U.S. Senate, mainly for the Republican nominee, State Treasurer Josh Mandel. Ohio is the new Rich Right's big Senate power play. Outside groups have poured a whopping $18 million into attempting to bury the incumbent, Sen. Sherrod Brown.
It seems to have had no effect whatsoever: that Times poll has Brown 10 points ahead. Perhaps that's because Mandel is stiff, policy-deprived and appears to be about 12 years old. "I thought Brown was vulnerable," said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. "But Josh is I don't think he's proven to be a very good candidate."
The Republican establishment moans about the candidates that the tea party's stuck them with. But, in Ohio, they got to pick, and they nominated somebody who looks like a cast member on "Glee."
But I digress. Meanwhile, back at the Romney rally here in Westerville, Nicklaus was telling the crowd that he chose golf as his profession because it didn't require teamwork. ("I didn't lean on somebody else in tough times.")
Then Nicklaus introduced Mitt Romney. "What you heard from the Golden Bear ... the words he spoke, he touched my heart," said the candidate. He then gave his stump speech, and the Already Committed cheered lustily.
The rest is all up to you, Undecided Voters. Although it looks as if in Ohio, the Romney camp will need some Changed My Mind recruits, too.