Ohio, you may make history on the night of Nov. 6.
You may elect a new president without giving him your 18 electoral votes.
Consider this rather remarkable truism of American political history:
No Republican presidential candidate – going all the way back to the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln in 1860 – has won the White House without winning Ohio.
Mitt Romney could be the first.
This is not to say he will lose Ohio; he may, in fact, win the Buckeye State.
And it is not to say that Romney will necessarily win the White House. President Obama’s poll numbers have been slipping lately, but the race is still a virtual dead heat.
Flip a coin. Lots of time between now and Nov. 6 for the Obama campaign to turn it around.
But Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, and his colleagues, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley have written an analysis of where the presidential race stands now and lays out several pathways for Romney to win the White House without winning Ohio.
The polls in Ohio are all over the map – last week, the NBC/Marist poll had Obama up by six percentage points in Ohio, while Rasmussen Reports had the president up by only one percentage point.
Real Clear Politics, a website that tracks national and key state polls, averaged out the seven most recent Ohio polls and came up with an Obama lead of 1.3 percent.
It’s going to be a close race here in Ohio.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the White House.
Sabato’s electoral college map shows Obama with 277 electoral votes – a combination of solidly Democratic states and states leaning that way – and Romney with 235 electoral votes.
Three states with a total of 26 electoral votes – Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia – are rated by Sabato as toss-ups.
Let’s say Romney wins all three of those toss-ups – that brings him to 261 electoral votes.
If he does that, the GOP candidate would need to win one of two states that Sabato now lists as “leaning Democratic” – Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) or Ohio (18 electoral votes).
Bingo. President Romney.
Or he win the three toss-ups and both Iowa (six electoral votes) and Nevada (6 electoral votes).
Again, bingo for Romney.
Yes, we know, there are a lot of “ifs” there. And the electoral college map still favors Obama, based on the polling.
But two weeks ago, an analysis that showed Romney winning the White House without winning Ohio would have sounded ludicrous.
It’s not so ludicrous now.
“It all goes back to President Obama’s performance in the first debate,’’ Sabato told WVXU. “That’s when the numbers spiked up for Romney, instantly.”
Romney is still running hard in Ohio, like a man with his hair on fire. Either he or his running mate or one of the Romney sons campaigned in Ohio five out of six days last week. Saturday, Paul Ryan – fresh off his debate with Vice President Joe Biden – went to Youngstown to rally the troops; and Romney himself held rallies in Portsmouth and Lebanon, on the street outside the Warren County town’s historic Golden Lamb.
The frenzy of campaigning in Ohio, Sabato said, will probably lead to a round of internal polling by the Romney campaign next week to see if all the activity moved the needle.
If they come to the conclusion that Ohio is an unlikely win, Sabato said, “they might start shifting their resources elsewhere.”
“Even if they decide they can’t win, they’ll maintain a level of presence in Ohio, just to make everybody think that it is still in play,’’ Sabato said.
Scott Jennings, the Ohio state director for the Romney campaign, said talk of Romney not winning Ohio is misguided.
"I don’t think there is any question – Mitt Romney will win Ohio. We have the momentum.”
The early voting in Ohio portends well for the Romney campaign, Jennings said.
“You have Franklin County, where 17 percent of the voters have identified themselves as Republicans by voting in Republican primaries; and they account for 32 percent of the absentee ballots so far,’’ Jennings said. “You have Hamilton County with 19 percent Republicans and 34 percent of the absentee ballots have come from Republicans.
“I could put Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan in any one of Ohio’s 88 counties and draw a crowd,’’ Jennings said. “The other side can’t say that.”
Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland told WVXU that he is convinced the early voting – both by mail and in-person at boards of elections – will heavily favor Obama.
“The Obama campaign is the most impressive grassroots organization I have ever seen,’’ Strickland said. “They know how to turn people out.”
The Obama administration’s bail-out of the auto industry in 2009 – something Romney opposed – is, in large part, responsible for his lead in the polls.
“How can Mitt Romney come to Ohio and talk convincingly about job creation when he opposed the auto industry rescue?,’’ Strickland said. “There are a lot of reasons for Ohioans to support the president, but that is at the top of the list.”
Still, both sides are bracing for a close race and a long election night in Ohio.
And the possibility that Romney could become the first GOP president elected without Ohio is real, if everything else falls in place for the GOP nominee.
“We have so many elections; and every time, there is something that surprises us,’’ Sabato said. “Romney winning the election without Ohio would be one of them.”