COLUMBUS — President Barack Obama held an early lead over Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday in Ohio for what could be a pivotal battleground state in their nail-bitingly close president race.
With about 16 percent of the vote reported, Obama was ahead by some 169,000 votes in unofficial results. The Democrat was trying to carry the state a second time.
Both sides poured major time and money into the closely watched state, adding campaign visits in the final days and even hours before the polls closed Tuesday evening.
Voters sampled in exit polls said the economy was the leading issue, but they split on which candidate would be better to improve it.
Voters voiced support for the Obama-backed auto industry bailout, while Romney showed support among those saying they wanted a strong leader who shared their values. Obama appeared to be dominating the college-age vote, as he did across the state in 2008. Romney led among 65-and-older voters surveyed, and appeared to be doing better with those nearing retirement than John McCain had in ‘08.
Turning out their base supporters and running up the score in their strongest areas loomed as crucial for both candidates.
Obama looked to Democratic strongholds in northeast Ohio and the state's biggest cities. His Republican challenger hoped for blowout results in southwest Ohio and the state's suburbs and rural areas.
No Republican has won the White House without Ohio. The last president elected despite losing Ohio was Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960, and the last sitting president to lose Ohio was George H.W. Bush in 1992 to Democrat Bill Clinton.
Throughout the year, Ohio was site of much of the advertising spending by the campaigns and outside supporters and was among the most-visited states by the campaigns. Obama officially kicked off his re-election campaign with a May 5 rally at Ohio State University, and Romney campaigned in nearly every corner of the state.
Obama touted the auto industry bailout and said his policies were helping Ohio recover. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, pointed to more Ohioans on food stamps and jobs lost to China in saying he would help strengthen Ohio's economy. His appeal was complicated by the state's recent progress, including an unemployment rate that was lower than the nation's.
Both sides touted major ground games to reach voters, with the Romney campaign way ahead of the 2008 John McCain campaign in making voter contacts. The Obama campaign increased its sizable 2008 presence in Ohio with more field offices.
Late summer polls showed Obama starting to open a gap in Ohio, but his lackluster performance in the first debate helped revitalize the Romney effort.
While Romney passed over native son Sen. Rob Portman as his vice presidential choice, Portman chaired the Romney campaign in Ohio and was active as a surrogate. Ryan highlighted his own Ohio ties as a Miami University alumnus.
Obama's campaign got help from former Gov. Ted Strickland and surrogates including space hero and former Ohio Sen. John Glenn and Clinton, who twice carried Ohio.
The two sides had tried to lure undecided voters with late campaign rallies featuring music stars: Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z and Stevie Wonder for Obama; Kid Rock, the Marshall Tucker Band and Rodney Atkins for Romney.