Joel Mowbray

In a state where only 29% believe their family?s finances have improved in the past four years and nearly 60% rate the local economy as ?not so good? or ?poor,? the obvious question is: how did Bush manage to win Ohio, the Democrats? top red state target?

Poring over the Ohio exit polling data?which, for obvious reasons, must be taken with a heaping grain of salt?almost every standard indicator would suggest doom for the incumbent.

The overwhelming majority of late-deciders broke for John Kerry (contrary to much of the rest of the country), moderates split for the Democrat decisively, 59-41, and polling leading up to the election asking the famous ?right direction/wrong direction? question found folks answering roughly 35-65.

This in a state that Al Gore essentially conceded?and then only lost by 3.6%.  Throw in a slumping local economy, and Bush?s goose should have been cooked.

Though identifying what put a candidate in a close contest ?over the top? is sort of like crediting the final basket scored with winning the basketball game, it appears that a ballot initiative, known as Issue 1, banning gay marriage provided Bush with the winning margin in Ohio?and thus, the electoral college.

In the state?s three largest counties?Cuyahoga (home to Cleveland), Franklin (Columbus), and Hamilton (Cincinnati)?Gore scored a 130,000-vote margin out of 1.36 million cast.  Gore won big in Cuyahoga (169,000), and pulled a surprise upset in once-Republican Franklin (5,000).  Bush was saved by Hamilton, where he won by 43,000.

With the Democratic National Committee and George Soros-funded Moveon.org and America Coming Together focused on getting Kerry supporters to the polls in those three counties (and a handful of others), Kerry improved on Gore?s showing dramatically.

Kerry cleaned Bush?s clock in Cuyahoga by a stunning 218,000, and shocked almost everyone with a 31,000-vote victory in Franklin.  Compounding matters, Bush barely carried Hamilton, with a net gain of less than 25,000.  All told, Kerry beat Bush in those three counties by 225,000.

In almost any other election, such big margins in the three biggest counties would mean certain victory.

Turnout in rural, exurban, and outlying areas tells the real tale in Ohio.  Bush blunted Kerry?s gains in traditionally Democratic, culturally conservative counties (think Reagan Democrats), and racked up huge numbers in rural and exurban counties.


Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

Be the first to read Joel Mowbray's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.