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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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Former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), who represented southeastern Ohio in Congress for 12 years, says he won’t deny that coal will sway some voters. “But it won’t be the determinative factor,” he says. “All along the Ohio River, where steel mills have closed, I think the outsourcing of jobs is a more powerful issue in a generic kind of sense.”

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A long winning streak

Ultimately, the battle for Ohio will be waged statewide. From the liberal northeast to the conservative southwest, the Buckeye State is in many ways a microcosm of the country. One exception is its small Hispanic population. But for now, Ohio is the reigning bellwether in presidential politics: It has voted for the winner every time since 1964, the longest streak of all 50 states.

When ads funded by outside groups are included, Team Obama expects to be outspent on TV and is banking on its ground game. Four years ago, the Obama campaign opened more than 100 offices around the state. This time, the campaign plans to outdo that. State campaign director Greg Schultz has been on the job since March 2009.

The Romney campaign, delayed by a tough primary battle, has had to play catch-up. As of July 16, there were 23 joint Romney–Republican National Committee “victory centers” in Ohio versus 36 Obama for America offices. All told, Romney and the RNC plan more than 60 or 70 victory centers, says a Republican source.

But it’s not the number of offices that matters, says the Romney campaign. “What’s clear is we are going to be able to match Barack Obama volunteer for volunteer, door-knock for door-knock, phone call for phone call between now and November,” says Christopher Maloney, spokesman for the Romney campaign in Ohio.

What’s also clear is that Romney can’t match Obama as a stump performer. As of July 24, the president and his top surrogates – Mr. Biden and Mrs. Obama – will have been here 47 times since Obama’s election. Biden may be his secret weapon, the “scrapper from Scranton” who can speak to white, working-class voters in a way that the Obamas can’t.

All those Obama visits play right into Romney’s hands, says Mr. Elsass of the Strategy Group for Media, the GOP ad firm. “Barack Obama,” he says, “energizes our base in a way that Mitt Romney can’t.”

In a sign that Democrats will let no challenge to their ground game go unanswered, the Obama campaign filed a federal lawsuit last Tuesday against Ohio election officials, saying new restrictions halting early voting three days before the election are unconstitutional.

The Obama campaign, joined by the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party, says the new rule is unfair, since military and overseas voters are allowed to vote in person until the day before the election. Four years ago, the Obama campaign saw early voting as crucial to winning Ohio.

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