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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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Collective-bargaining backlash

One of the biggest questions hanging over Ohio is what kind of residual impact there may be from last year’s battle over public-sector unions. Gov. John Kasich (R) took office in January 2011 vowing to curb collective-bargaining rights in an effort to balance the state budget. But when the law passed, the backlash was fierce – particularly so because, unlike in Wisconsin, it included police and firefighter unions.

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Suddenly, traditionally Republican-leaning unions had common cause with their liberal union brethren. Last November, their efforts paid off: Ohio voters repealed the collective-bargaining law with 61 percent of the vote.

“[The law] was probably an overreach,” says GOP chair Bennett. But “we were outspent 2-1/2 to 1.”

Governor Kasich remains unpopular – a blow to Romney’s chances in Ohio, Democrats say – even though statewide unemployment has steadily declined to 7.2 percent in June, a percentage point below the national average. But it’s too soon to say whether the police and firefighters will stick with the more liberal unions in supporting Obama in 2012, despite Romney’s anti-union positions.

“It’s going to take some work. I wouldn’t say it’s an automatic thing,” says Robert Davis, political director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Ohio Council 8 in Columbus. Even the membership of his own union, he says, is one-third Republican.

For Senator Brown, support for unions has already paid off. Last Tuesday, the state Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) endorsed Brown against Republican challenger Josh Mandel, the first time the organization has backed a Democrat for the US Senate since 1988.

The Ohio FOP has yet to state a choice to the national FOP for a presidential endorsement, but Romney’s support for the anti-union ballot measure last October, along with the union’s Senate endorsement, does not bode well for him. Republicans say that the police union’s political preferences are all about labor issues, not about how the rank and file will vote.

One issue that clearly boosts Obama is his 2009 bailout of the auto industry. One out of 8 Ohio jobs is auto-industry related; 80 of the state’s 88 counties contain auto supply manufacturers.

Still, there’s no denying that the sputtering economic recovery casts a shadow over all else in Ohio, as it does nationally. Ohio ranks ninth in the nation on home foreclosures. And if the battle for Ohio boils down to the southeastern, Appalachian part of the state, Obama could be in real trouble. Coal is king there, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations on coal-fired power-plant emissions are deeply unpopular.

Southeastern Ohio is also socially conservative – no to gay marriage and abortion, yes to guns – which is another strike against Obama. But it’s also economically liberal in its support of the social safety net. That’s why some political observers call it Ohio’s ultimate swing area.

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