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One presidential debate over, and still undecided in Ohio

The Monitor watched Wednesday's presidential debate with undecided voter Maggie O'Toole in Ohio – an important battleground state. Why she is still not ready to commit to either President Obama or Mitt Romney. 

By Staff writer / October 4, 2012

President Barack Obama walks past Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

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Dover, Ohio

President Obama mentioned Cleveland; Mitt Romney cited Dayton. Both Ohio cities made it into the first national presidential debate Wednesday, and Maggie O’Toole, an undecided voter from this small city in southeast Ohio, definitely noticed. 

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Not that she was all that pleased about it. “Way to name-check a swing state,” Ms. O’Toole says sarcastically, settled into her living room sofa to watch Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney spar for 90 minutes over domestic policy on a University of Denver stage. “They have to prove they know it. It’s weird.”

In the end, Ms. O'Toole – a 20-something marketing professional – remains on the fence, unswayed by either candidate's performance and still not ready to commit. She says she felt that Obama and Romney mainly revisited their familiar talking points, and she often found their words disappointing.

With 18 electoral votes, Ohio is an important battleground state in the November election, and both candidates are pushing to win over uncertain voters like O’Toole who will likely determine who will win the state – and perhaps the whole election. A Friday rally for Obama at Cleveland State University will be his 22nd appearance in the state this year; Romney has parachuted into Ohio 16 times so far, most recently last week.

“The thin slice of that electorate is up for grabs in Ohio,” says Paul Allen Beck, a political scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus. “Undecideds are still in play. The debates will be important in moving them” to make a final choice.

The latest Ohio polls show Obama with a single-digit edge over Romney – 49 to 45 percent, according to Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, N.C. – with 7 percent of state voters undecided. The survey was conducted Sept. 27-30 among 897 likely voters with a margin of error of 3.3 percent.

Though leading, Obama by no means has the state locked up: His approval ratings among Ohioans are split 48 to 49 percent, akin to Romney’s favorability ratings, 45 to 49 percent. The numbers are close enough that the outcome in Ohio remains unpredictable.  

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