Monday, October 13, 2008

How's O-bama feel about O-hio?

Exciting times for left-wing pollwatchers, as polls from a number of companies and a number of states flood us every day. Everybody seems to be trending Obama: Pennsylvania and New Hampshire away from the center, as well as Michigan thanks to a good shove from McCain. The Bush state of New Mexico and Iowa are called "safe Obama" by a number of prognosticators. Entering the swing zone from the right are Indiana and North Carolina as well as West Vriginia and even Georgia. The main exception seems to be Ohio -- go ahead, ask the pollsters. More on Ohio in a second.

With this multiplicity of swing states and routes to 270 challenge the Obama campaign to balance these opportunities. There are more states in play this election, and Obama has to prioritize, a tricky balancing act for the Senator.

Using the WashPo's handy candidate tracker, I counted up the number of Obama visits to each state since September 1. I count September 1st as the beginning of the true campaign, as opposed to fundraising. I counted up the number of Obama's visits to each state, as opposed to the number of events during visit or the duration in days of a visit. I do this because regardless of number of events, each news cycle is one day long, and the main impact of visits is news coverage. "Obama still in Florida" doesn't really have much impact on the news as "Obama arrives in Florida", and the investment of resources to move the entire campaign is a bigger statement than renting two buses to drive 150 miles down the road. Here's what I found:

State and number of visits:
Michigan 4
Florida 4
Virginia 3
Wisconsin 3
North Carolina 2
Ohio 2
Pennsylvania 2
Nevada 2
Colorado 2
New Hampshire 1
New Mexico 1
Indiana 1

New York (9/11 and debate) 2
Mississippi (debate) 1
Tennessee (debate) 1

An odd collection. There are many calculations that go into these visits: it's often a question of where Obama exhibits more "value-added" over a surrogate, such as Biden, Michelle or the Clintons. However, there are a couple things that jump out at me on this list:

* Obama has spent a lot of time in Michigan.
* Obama evidently feels rather comfortable about Iowa, ignoring the state altogether.
* For a state into which Obama has put much field effort and money, I'd have expected more than one visit -- and a single event at that -- in Indiana.
* Ohio, I'll note, has many multiple-event visits. But still, only two visits?

This is a rather incomplete picture, but I'd like to consider that last question in more depth. Ohio is becoming a bit like New Hampshire, perversely proud of being undecided and prevaricating. In short, Ohio is getting needy. After a high-spirited primary battle in 2008 and a arm-wrestling match in 2004, Ohioans may have become resistant to appeals and attention from campaigns. Just as we've seen over-entitled pigherders and farmers in Iowa and New Hampshire demanding more toadying with every cycle, so too are Ohioans. A recent photo showed some smug idiot wearing a sign that proclaims "undecided Ohio voter". The nastily entitled grin on his face told everyone just how special he thinks we should all consider him. He could be an embodiment of the state.

Yes, Ohio has 20 electoral votes, but that is a number reached through all sorts of combinations from other states. I have no idea, but if I wouldn't be shocked to learn that the Obama campaign privately feels that Ohio is too much of a headache, and there are much easier way to gain that yield of 20. Media is expensive and jaded, if not downright nutty. For example, Virginia + Colorado = 21, and those states seem to show more impact from visits and attention. The Ohio "ground game" in 2004 wasn't exactly gang-busters, especially compared to the operation that's been in put in place in Colorado and Virginia. (Remember what I said earlier about Colorado? I still stand by it. If this election is close, I'm glad Obama will be able to look back at having invested a great deal out there.)

I'm not at all saying abandon Ohio, but I'm not sure we get much bang for the buck there in terms of candidate visits. They both have a higher "return on investment" according to Nate Silver, as well. So while we may expect that Obama Road Show to stop by Ohio from time to time, I'd guess that not too many eggs are being nestled in the Buckeye Basket.

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