The King of Swings


Moving north from Tennessee, the South dilutes slowly: the "y’all" becomes "you all" and then, just over the Kentucky border into Cincinnati, Ohio, just "you".

Ohio is regular, undefined, middle America. As native Susan Orlean writes, "it doesn’t offset its squareness with a single jazzy event like Indiana does with the Indy 500 and Kentucky with the Derby". It seems truly content with amiable, productive typicality — the capital, Columbus, is regularly targeted by market researchers for this very reason.

Ironically, it’s being Joe Average that gives Ohio its one claim to fame: it is the King of Swings, the Decider State. No Republican has ever been elected without winning Ohio, and only two elections in the last century have been decided without Ohio’s approval. It doesn’t just choose presidents, though — it spawns them. Seven of the 43 have been Ohio natives, elected almost consecutively between 1840 and 1920.

Statistically, Cincinnati, within Hamilton County, has a less prestigious claim to fame. In this year’s Census Bureau figures it rated third poorest large US city, dropping an alarming five places in just 12 months. Crossing the Ohio River state boundary, the city appears as a grey smudge to your right. The ghostly quiet downtown on a Saturday night spoke of less than prosperous times.

The Democrats, with their overarching theme of the Great American Struggle, have zeroed in on Hamilton County, a staunchly red area that has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate only four times. On 31 October, Time called Hamilton the county that "could tip the election".

As Time reports, the primary in 2000 drew out 115,300 Republican voters to just 54,600 Democrats; in the 2008 primary, 83,400 came out for the GOP, compared with 165,000 for the Democrats. And although Hillary won Ohio overall, Hamilton County gave Obama a landslide victory of 63 per cent.

Last Friday, the Obama campaign had made a last-minute decision to do one more Ohio rally at the University of Cincinatti’s Nippert Stadium. By 4:00pm, 150 volunteers had gathered in the campus auditorium for instruction from the now legendary "Ethan". After coordinating all of Obama’s major rallies since March of this year, including the Berlin extravaganza, this would be his last.

"I went to Broward County in Florida last week, and it almost broke my spirit," he told the group. "I had two organisers get thrown down the stairs by ‘patriots’ — I couldn’t wait to get back to Ohio. We have pulled this thing together in 36 hours, so it will be a real feat if we can pull it off," he said, calming the enthusiastic crowd.

One lady asked how volunteers should handle irate patrons. "Just blame the Secret Service," he said. Then questions about how close they would be to Obama. "Know that I will fight for you to get up close, but we need you to work tonight," said Ethan. "If we can just work together through this, we will win Ohio and destroy the electoral map."

An estimated 27,000 audience members arrived between 2:00 and 4:00pm for Obama’s 9:00pm arrival at the podium. Everyone entered the stadium through two gates with metal detectors, and despite many having to throw away their packed dinners before entering, we heard no complaints. When the colossal line threatened to set back the schedule, the organisers closed the metal detectors and left the unsearched masses to pour in.

True to his word, minutes before Obama’s arrival, Ethan did indeed usher his volunteers onto the last wedge of vacant Astroturf, five metres behind the podium. As one volunteer quipped, "We’re between Obama and the mayor!" It’s these kind of gestures that have kept the Obama volunteer army, the retirees and students, the families and the political junkies, committed to the campaign.

Once at the podium, Obama stumped away. "From the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California…We are in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression… And the last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired, old theory… We can’t afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in these last few days. Not now."

In the front row, one adoring fan stood out. Grandma Wanda, clutching The Audacity of Hope, beamed up at him.

Many volunteers and rally attendants spoke of their election-day dread, when those marginal Counties may tally and recount, dispute and wrangle until the convolution squirms into the courtrooms where the legal teams square off. After Ohio’s voting troubles in the last two elections, this is just expected as an integral part of the process.

But there is also the possibility that it could all be over by Wednesday.

24-year-old Aaron will be one of those volunteering for the Democrats on polling day. He will stand behind polling officials as they cross off registered voters, checking them against his own list. At 3:00pm he will call campaign headquarters with the names of those who have not showed at the booths. Then, further volunteers will call these voters to encourage them, to implore them, to offer rides to the booths, to take them home.

It seems unthinkable that this long road to the White House will ever end. But it will. Very soon.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.