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It's all about Ohio: Could Rob Portman boost Romney's chances? (+video)

Sen. Rob Portman, a reported Romney short-lister for veep, is worth three to five points in battleground Ohio, says the state's Republican chairman. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning the Buckeye State.

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Where every vote matters

Rare is the running mate who can swing a state, but in a battleground as tight as Ohio, every vote matters. Four years ago, Obama won the state by just 4.6 percentage points, even as he was winning Wisconsin by 14 points and Michigan by 16. This year, his margins are down everywhere.

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And with most voters already in one or the other camp, “Ohio will be decided by 5 to 8 percent of its electorate,” says Rex Elsass, one of the top GOP admen in the United States, based near Columbus, Ohio.

Which brings us back to Ingersol, the Applebee’s waiter. In some ways, he’s the quintessential white working-class voter – a tough demographic for Obama in 2008 and even more so now. Ingersol is a single dad with no health insurance. But he’s so busy with work and family that the new health-care law is barely on his radar. And it may not be enough to bring him back to Obama.

“I’ve only been to the doctor once in the last 13 years,” Ingersol says proudly, suggesting he can do without insurance. (His kids are covered on their mother’s plan.)

In the Obama campaign’s Zanesville office, it’s health care that drew 23-year-old Chase Flowers to volunteer full time – specifically, the fact that the new law allows his parents to cover him and his sister.

“I tell people that health-care reform kills two birds with one stone,” he says. “It’s controlling health-care costs and helping people with their health.”

But to other Ohioans, “repeal Obamacare” is the ultimate rallying cry of the election. On a recent Tuesday evening, some 200 members of the Portage County Tea Party gathered near Akron for a candidates’ forum and then a pep talk from executive director Tom Zawistowski. Along the back of the room, 5,700 pages of voter names and contact information supplied by the Romney campaign were stacked on tables, waiting for volunteers to take.

Despite the tea party’s ambivalence about Romney, there’s no doubt that on defeating Obama and the state’s senior senator, Sherrod Brown (D) – two steps toward undoing the health-care law – they’re on the same page.

“We’re at war with the Republican Party in some ways: It’s not as conservative as we’d like it to be,” says Mr. Zawistowski, who is also president of the statewide Ohio Liberty Coalition. “But we’re working together on get-out-the-vote. They have resources that we don’t have.”

In his speech to his local tea party, exhorting members to canvass their neighbors, he gets choked up.

“The Supreme Court punted,” Zawistowski says. “They kicked it back to the legislature, to the American people.... My destiny, our destiny is in our hands. I thank God I live in Ohio. I want to fight this fight with you. We will decide.”

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