LIMA — You won’t hear many people refer to Allen County as a “liberal oasis,” but that is in fact how political observer Bill Angel described the still solidly red county, at least compared with its neighbors.
In Tuesday’s election, President Barack Obama won Ohio by turning out his supporters by even greater margins than they did four years ago. Not as nearly as many of those folks live in West Central Ohio, but the ones who do counted toward the total in important ways, said Angel, a political science professor at OSU-Lima and former Allen County Democratic Party Chair who now lives in Auglaize County.
Obama garnered less than 30 percent of the vote in seven Ohio counties; five of those (Mercer, Putnam, Auglaize, Shelby and Darke) are in this region, Angel said. Compare that with Allen County, where Obama took 36 percent of the vote.
“The counties surrounding Allen are like the deep South; they have become very, very Republican,” Angel said. “Allen County is an oasis for liberals. It really is. It’s significantly different from the outlying areas. Part of that is that it does have a larger minority base, and it’s just a more urban setting.”
While Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney won Allen County with 61 percent of the vote, he lost Lima. In the city, 58 percent of voters picked Obama. Democratic organizers and volunteers should be very proud of that number, Angel said, because they did the job they were supposed to do: turn out voters who supported their candidate.
“They can be very proud of those numbers. Lima did their job in this election. Those are really good numbers for the city,” Angel said. “Part of that is the seriousness with which the Obama people took this part of the state. All of those votes count toward Ohio’s electoral vote. The effort they made to organize was key: You didn’t see Mondale-like numbers, Gore-like numbers. You get a few more thousand votes and they all count toward the total.”
The Obama campaign opened a field office in Lima’s downtown in early spring; while Republicans were still picking a party standard-bearer. Having people on the ground that long meant campaign workers got to know the city and build relationships. After 2008, the Obama campaign never left Ohio.
“It makes you less of an outsider. You learn the lay of the the land, alliances. Like they say in ‘Music Man,’ you’ve got to know the turf,” Angel said.
The president went a long way toward winning Ohio when, in 2009, he authorized money from another bailout program to rescue the auto industry. It was not a popular decision at the time with a public weary of bailing out “too big to fail” businesses, but it saved thousands of jobs in Ohio, and most likely helped Obama garner some support of white, working class voters in Ohio he may not have had otherwise, Angel said.
The other side of the coin came when Romney first said he didn’t support government intervention in the bankruptcies. Then he mistakenly said during a campaign stop in Defiance that Chrysler was moving production jobs to China. When the statement was proved false, Romney still made a TV ad that doubled down on the claim, which was refuted by car company CEOs.
“I think it may have ended up a character issue,” Angel said. “First, the auto workers said, ‘That’s not a guy I want to support.’ The vote was going Obama’s way already, and the ad was a desperation ploy, a gamble, and he ended up being called out by CEOs. That hurt them.”
A greater percentage of people voted early in this election in Ohio than ever before. In Allen County, for example, 13,738 people, 29 percent of the total, voted early, either by mailing in a ballot or in-person at the elections board, Allen County elections Director Ken Terry said. That marked an increase of more than 2,000 over the 2008 election.
For the Obama campaign, pushing the early vote was more than nailing down votes (if you vote three weeks early, you can’t change your mind), but more about making sure supporters did vote, Angel said.
Angel said he was a skeptic about early voting, believing that people wouldn’t want to vote until the whole campaign was had.
“I’ve lost that argument now. It’s so convenient. You can determine when you vote and do it a time that works for you,” Angel said. “It’s broadening your chance to get out and vote. It avoids problems, reduces stress on poll workers, smooths out the process. Both parties need to get with the program; it shouldn’t be seen as partisan.”
The president saw a win both in the popular vote and a broad win in the Electoral College. Obama won 70 percent of the vote among Latinos (which had an all-time vote-share high of 10 percent); and 55 percent of the vote among women. In Ohio, black turnout increased from 11 percent to 15 percent. He successfully defended every state he won in 2008, except for two, Indiana and North Carolina. As news organizations called states for the candidates Tuesday night, they came to Ohio by 11:15 p.m. While the vote was far from counted, the media put Ohio in Obama’s column.
Angel, working as an election analyst for Your Hometown Stations, was watching counties where the vote remained outstanding.
“I understood perfectly why they were calling it,” Angel said. “The only precincts left to count were urban, which were going to the president. It made perfect sense.”