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Delegates From Swing State Ohio Center Stage At RNC

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Georgia. 72. Romney.


All the states answer the call of the roll tonight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and the District of Columbia and some territories that don't even vote for the president.


CORNISH: But when the campaigns plan their candidates' itineraries and when the superPACs make their media buys, not all states are equal. My colleauge Robert Siegel is in Tampa, where he has visited with the delegation from one key battleground state.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: Yesterday, at a delegation breakfast, Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman stated the obvious.

SENATOR ROBERT JONES PORTMAN: The delegation from Ohio, those of us here, are in the center of the storm - literally here in Tampa, but also in this election - because the road to the White House goes through...




PORTMAN: OK. Just want to make sure you're awake.

SIEGEL: Here's one measure of that truism. The last time Ohio did not vote for the winner in the presidential race was 1960. The state went for Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy. Barack Obama carried Ohio four years ago. Then, in 2010, the GOP swept the state. Republican John Kasich was elected governor.

Former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, who was defeated for re-election a few years before, was elected attorney general. DeWine hosted this morning's delegation breakfast, where he told the assembled delegates and alternates, many small business owners among them, that this election is about jobs.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RICHARD MICHAEL DEWINE: Do we want someone who thinks those jobs were created by Washington or someone like Governor Romney who understands they are created by you? That's what this election is about.

SIEGEL: The polls in Ohio show it's a very close race. Most show President Obama slightly ahead. But a Columbus Dispatch poll the other day found that after polling more than 1,700 Ohioans by mail, Mitt Romney was ahead by two. Not 2 percent, 2 votes. I asked Mike DeWine what case Republicans have to make to win his state.

DEWINE: I think in Ohio, it still comes back to the economy. It comes back to jobs. Historically, that's been what the issue has been in Ohio. You can go back 20, 30, 40 years in gubernatorial campaigns and presidential campaigns. It is usually about the economy. It's usually about the jobs, and frankly that's what we want to talk about.

SIEGEL: And if it's as close as the poll show it is and if it comes down to getting out the vote and to whatever enthusiasm there is behind those choices, I mean, tell me what you're hearing. Is there a job to be done to get enough Republican votes out in Ohio?

DEWINE: If you look at the number of calls that our call centers are making, if you look at people who are turning out as volunteers, we're way ahead of where we were four years ago. So I think the intensity, unlike four years, I think the intensity is really on our side this time and that does matter.

SIEGEL: I asked some Ohio political reporters about DeWine's claim of increased Republican enthusiasm. They said what's still more evident is decreased Democratic enthusiasm. Delegate Betty Montgomery told me Republican enthusiasm is there. Montgomery, who used to be Ohio attorney general as well as state auditor and a state legislator, told me this campaign is all about the few remaining undecideds and explaining to them the tough choices that the Republicans say have to be made.

BETTY MONTGOMERY: We have to make some decisions about our entitlement programs and doing it responsibly and at the same time, avoiding a Mediscare, which Medicare scare.

SIEGEL: The news platform language that embraces the Ryan plan for Medicare, which says, in effect, end of the open-ended entitlement to coverage, do premium support, make it a defined contribution program, and the seniors 10 years from now, not now, will take that money to the market place and buy insurance with it. Is it going to hurt carrying that message to voters?

MONTGOMERY: Well, I think because you're - having to educate, you have a choice. You have at some point, in the near future, a choice between staying with the system you have or taking control of your own care. And that is an education problem.

SIEGEL: But she says the Republican leadership team is up to the task. Like other battleground states, Ohio is witnessing a battle over voting laws. Republican groups call it assuring the integrity of the vote. Democrats call it voter suppression. Over the weekend, a conservative group called True The Vote threatened to sue the state over what it claims are improper registrations.

Yesterday, a federal judge stayed an election law that would have invalidated ballots cast at the wrong polling place, even if that was due to election officials' errors. As attorney general, Mike DeWine is defending a policy of the Ohio secretary of state to have uniform hours for early voting at board of elections in all Ohio counties. They'd be open Monday through Friday. DeWine says that's fair. It leaves more than 30 days of early voting throughout the state.

DEWINE: What's really at issue is the Sunday, is there going to be the ability to get people from, you know, who are coming out of church or whatever they're doing on Sunday and to go vote.

SIEGEL: And does that cut either way? I mean, are we talking about black churches, evangelical white churches? I mean, one (unintelligible).

DEWINE: Well, I think it can cut either way although I think what we've seen at least in Ohio is it has been utilized much more effectively in the past by the Democrats.

SIEGEL: By preachers in black churches. There could yet be any number of court rulings and appeals on voting in the state of Ohio. Ohio is hard to read. Last year, after a big effort by organized labor, the state's voters rejected a curtailment of public employees' collective bargaining rights, a la Wisconsin. But on the same day, they also effectively voted against the Affordable Health Care Act - or Obamacare. This November, Ohio could very likely be a bellwether, once again.


That's our co-host, Robert Siegel, reporting from the Republican Convention in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.