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Crunch time in Ohio, as Obama, Romney blitz to get out the vote

Both campaigns are swarming Ohio, knocking on doors and making phone calls to potential voters. In these last crucial days, getting out the vote in what may be the deciding state of Election 2012 is paramount.

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"There's no doubt that when this is all over, it will be very clear that the tea party movement did what we did in 2010, only better," Mr. Zawistowski says. What's more, he says, tea partyers are crucial to the GOTV efforts of outside conservative groups operating in Ohio, such as Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association, which is focused on older voters.

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  • Ohio's electorate
  • Ohio's electorate

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On the Democratic side, labor-union activists are crucial to Obama, both in directly volunteering for his reelection campaign and in their own GOTV efforts. Under the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, union members are no longer barred from spending union money in outreach to nonunion members. The Ohio AFL-CIO says it will talk to almost 2 million voters this cycle, up from 1.2 million in past elections.

Ohio labor-union activists also hope memories are still fresh of Republican Gov. John Kasich's drive in 2011 to limit the collective-bargaining power of public employees, including police and firefighters. Voters later repealed the law in a union-led campaign that served as a dry run for 2012.

Unions connected to the auto industry – which Obama bailed out early in his presidency – are also supportive of him. But while 1 out of 8 Ohio jobs is connected to the auto industry, union rank and file don't always follow their bosses' lead politically.

Another constituency crucial to Obama's reelection is young voters, and the president and his surrogates have made plenty of visits to Ohio campuses – including Obama's Oct. 17 visit to Ohio University in Athens, where 14,000 people turned out. Outside the perimeter of the event, protesters waved signs slamming the president's policies toward coal, a big issue in this Appalachian part of the state. But on the college green, there was a lot of Obama love.

"I can't even tell you that I've seen a sign on campus for Romney," says junior Tyler Borchers, a communication major from Troy, Ohio, covering the rally for a student news outlet.

Still, the under-30 crowd can be unreliable voters. While national polls show big youth margins for Obama, their motivation to vote is down from 2008.

Therein lies the overarching question of 2012: Is this election going to be more like 2004 or 2008 in turnout? In 2008, traditionally lower-turnout groups voted in higher numbers than in 2004, to Obama's benefit.

"It's so close in Ohio, Romney needs to squeeze every last vote out of those Republican precincts," says John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "Just like Obama's going to need to do in the Democratic precincts."

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