After a long, exhausting campaign, the Buckeye battleground came good for Barack Obama, with network projections indicating that Ohio has helped keep the President in his job for another four years after he bailed out the car companies linked to one in eight jobs in this midwestern state.
Four hours after polls here closed, the state’s 18 prized electoral votes were projected to have landed in the incumbent’s column, helping cement his path to a second term. Driving sentiment, according to exit polls, was one of the prime bones of contention this election season, namely the auto-bailout that the President approved and his now vanquished Republican challenger disapproved of.
Though most Ohioans in an Associated Press exit poll were split evenly over which candidate would best handle the economy, they were for the aid to General Motors and Chrysler that Mr Romney opposed, most famously in a 2008 New York Times editorial headlined: “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”. The Republican was also projected to have lost nearby Michigan, home to Detroit, the capital of America’s car-country that extends deep into Ohio.
In the final stretch, Mr Romney also faced criticism for television ads suggesting that Jeep jobs were on their way to China. Chrysler-owned Jeep has been making cars in Ohio for more than half a century - and the suggestion prompted a swift denial from the company.
The President made good use of the controversy in the final stretch of campaigning. On the stump in Springfield last week, he said: “You don’t scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes. That’s not what being president’s about.”
Hammering home the message, he also took every opportunity to revisit the bailout. “I understand that Gov Romney has had a tough time here in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry,” he said in Springfield. “I get that it’s a problem for him. But you can’t run away from that position.” On election night, it seemed to have paid off.
Earlier, pre-election polls had already given the President an edge here, something that chimed with what some voters were saying after casting their ballots. In Canton, the seat of Stark, a closely-watched swing county, Eric Mews had only just made up his mind to vote for Mr Romney this week. But, despite his vote, he conceded that the wind appeared to be blowing the incumbent’s way.
“I think [Ohio is]going for Obama. As a Romney supporter, I think that’s where its going. Just talking to the people I talk to and the people, you know, I meet in my focus,” he said after casting his ballot in the morning.
Although the direction of the race remained inconclusive until well after nightfall, one thing was already clear on the chilly Tuesday morning: Mr Mews and his fellow Ohioans were glad to finally have their say and bring the noisy contest for the White House to a close. More than one local resident expressed relief as the campaigns, which, along with outside groups, have spent billions this election season, finally began to wind down. “I was at my sister’s wedding in Pennsylvania two weeks ago and I was glad to watch TV there because there were no [political ads] for about two hours,” Mr Mews said.