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Originally published Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 1:48 PM

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It’s all about Ohio now

Ohio, the ultimate swing state, is enjoying it’s time in the presidential election spotlight, writes Gail Collins. The Buckeye State is bracing for a stampede of worried Republicans in the waning days of the campaign.

Syndicated columnist

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CINCINNATI – Have we mentioned that it’s all up to Ohio?

“People do like being the center of the universe. And Ohio — when does that happen?” asked P.G. Sittenfeld gleefully. He is a member of the Cincinnati City Council who went to battle recently over a series of billboards that popped up in minority neighborhoods announcing “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY!” with a picture of a gavel banging down.

The ads, which certainly seemed less than encouraging, were paid for by a foundation led by a big Republican donor from Wisconsin. Now they’re down, and thanks in part to Sittenfeld’s yelps, there are new billboards in the same neighborhoods saying, “Hey, Cincinnati: Voting Is a Right, Not a Crime.”

So there’s a happy ending. Although, in an ideal world, we probably wouldn’t be required to remind folks that voting for president is not against the law.

“How do Florida and Colorado feel?” Sittenfeld wondered. “Do they resent us? Is there swing-state envy?”

It’s been all up to Ohio for months now. But, on Wednesday, a new CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll showed President Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney by 5 points in the Buckeye State. In response, Romney officials began to suggest that maybe it was really all about Pennsylvania.

Nobody took them seriously. Mitt is bringing half the Republican Party to Ohio on Friday to kick off the new “Romney-Ryan Real Recovery Road Rally.” Everybody’s coming — Ann, the sons, Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan’s wife, whom we have yet to actually meet, Rudy Giuliani, a couple of Olympic medalists and pretty much every Republican elected official except He Who Must Not Be Named in New Jersey.

Sudden plans for a road trip are usually the sign of a pressing need to escape reality.

Ohio is currently famous for its oversupply of TV campaign ads — Douglas Tifft, a legal research clerk in Cincinnati, counted 16 in a row one recent night. It also has a history of Election Day crises. This is one of the reasons voting now runs for more than a month, the better to reduce the chances of a last-minute pileup. (Earlier this year, the Republican secretary of state seemed bent on expanding voting hours even more in the suburbs while reducing them in the cities, but he has gotten over that.)

Nearly a quarter of the likely voters have already cast their ballots. Frankly, I don’t see why everybody hasn’t voted already, because this is the only way to keep the desperate party workers from calling you and coming repeatedly to your door to ask you to get with the program.

The Romney-Ryan Real Recovery Road Rally will begin in John Boehner’s hometown of West Chester. Then everybody will fan out across the land to distract the country from the fact that Romney once said he wanted to get rid of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And, actually, it’s not very fair to bring that up. That was during the primaries, and Romney did not mean a single thing he said during the primaries. The person currently running for president is the late-fall Mitt Romney, who is mainly concerned with China. And “change.”

Change is so 2008. Right now, we are just looking for a president who will nudge things a tad toward the right general direction. Bring us the guy who won’t totally screw things up. We want a “No New Disasters” rally.

About Ohio. Obama canceled a big Cincinnati rally Wednesday, but his supporters here didn’t seem to mind. This was mainly because Ohio appreciated the importance of focusing on the disaster along the East Coast, but also because local Democrats are in such a state of manic anxiety that the president’s visit was just going to be that many hours lost from going door to door, begging people to vote or putting up lawn signs and then replacing the lawn signs when they’re stolen.

“I wanted to sit up all night in a lawn chair,” said Michele Mueller, who has lost a large number of Obama signs to vandals. “But my husband said, no, we’re going to hang them from the tree.” The next morning when they woke up, the Muellers found someone had climbed into the trees and draped towels over their placards. So it goes.

If this election is going to be all about somebody other than me, I’m good with Ohioans. They are, as a group, hardworking, unassuming and inclined to take their civic responsibilities seriously.

“I don’t ever get anybody saying: ‘I’m not interested,’” said Denise Driehaus, a state representative and compulsive door-to-door campaign worker.

Her brother, Steve, was a Cincinnati congressman who lost his seat in the big Republican surge of 2010. He then joined the Peace Corps and took his family to work in Swaziland. This should be a model for every ex-congressman lobbyist in Washington. Look to Ohio, guys. It’s all about Ohio.

© 2012, New York Times News Service

Gail Collins is a regular columnist for The New York Times.


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