A small Ohio newspaper could decide the race

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The Independent US

Although unknown to the vast majority of the US public, John Wolfe might be the man who could shape their future. And he could make his move as soon as tomorrow.

Although unknown to the vast majority of the US public, John Wolfe might be the man who could shape their future. And he could make his move as soon as tomorrow.

Mr Wolfe is owner and publisher of the Columbus Dispatch, a daily newspaper in Columbus, Ohio, whose presidential endorsement is considered the most sought-after in the entire US. Never has that been more so than this year.

With polls in the crucial battleground state of Ohio showing John Kerry and George Bush neck and neck, persuading just a handful of undecided voters could make the difference between victory and defeat when it comes to 2 November.

"Our endorsement is up for grabs," Ben Marrison, the paper's editor since 1999 and a member of the editorial board, told the Editor and Publisher journal. "It has become a jump-ball."

The Dispatch has not endorsed a Democrat since 1916; just the fact that the paper is strongly considering a Kerry endorsement is startling. "If you looked at our editorials over the past four years, it might look like we are not very happy with the President," Mary Ann Edwards, an editorial writer, said.

While there are several other daily papers in Ohio, the location of the Dispatch makes it particularly important. Most strategists agree the north of the state tends to support the Democrats and the south is where the Republicans are strongest. Smack in the middle, where these groups theoretically meet, is Columbus.

Mr Kerry and Mr Bush have both strongly courted the paper's endorsement. Mr Bush met Mr Wolfe, its associate publisher and chief political writer on Air Force One the day before he made his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last month. Mr Kerry met the editorial board on 23 September. In the last race Al Gore failed to take this vital step.

Reports suggest the newspaper will make its announcement in tomorrow's edition, if only to end the agony.

"I can't go anywhere without someone asking. It's pretty crazy. It has never been like this," said Mr Marrison. "[They ask] in church, in the grocery store, even at a high school football game, but I honestly don't know."

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