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Nation awaits Ohio

Zachary CoileSan Francisco Chronicle
Supporters of the Kerry/Edwards and Bush/Cheney campaigns demonstrate in front of the Supervisor of Elections Office in downtown Jacksonville, Fla. Several hundred last-minute voters lined up outside the building as polls neared closing. Florida Times Union photo/Bob Mack.
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Columbus, Ohio – Just hours before the polls closed Tuesday, President Bush made a last-minute trip to Ohio, knowing that winning this state he won four years ago was critical to his chances of re-election.”I’m confident we’ll carry Ohio and we’ll carry the nation,” Bush told cheering GOP activists at an afternoon rally.But, as of early Wednesday morning here, it was still unclear whether the president had made good on his pledge – or whether Democrat John Kerry would carry the state’s 20 Electoral College votes and salvage his chances of winning the presidency.With 83 percent of the vote counted, the president appeared to have a formidable lead with 51.2 percent of the vote with Kerry at 48.3 percent.Now the nation will wait as election workers in Ohio count the last remaining votes, with the possibility it could take hours – or days – to have a final total.In Pitkin County, the Kerry-Edwards ticket was the overwhelming choice, receiving 6,275 votes. Bush garnered 2,750 votes in the county.In the race for U.S. Senate (story, page A5), county voters again backed the winner, Ken Salazar, by a large margin, 6,088 to 2,748 for Pete Coors.

In Ohio, a massive turnout by both Democrats and Republicans left the state exactly as pollsters had predicted before the election: nearly evenly split.And as of midnight, some voters in Ohio were still at the polls. In Franklin County, which includes Columbus, some voters who had begun waiting in line before the 7:30 p.m. cutoff were still in line after midnight because polling places had too few ballot machines to handle the surge of voters. In Knox County, voters were still voting at 1 a.m.It remained unclear whether those last remaining votes would make a difference in the race. Democrats still hoped that they could pull off a victory by winning a huge margin of the remaining uncounted ballots, but Republicans felt they have the advantage because their lead was greater than 100,000 votes.”We’re very optimistic, but it’s close,” Bush adviser Karen Hughes told CNN just after midnight. “We are doing better than expected in several Democratic areas and we are carrying some swing areas around Columbus, and we have had a huge turnout in several of our base areas.””We won’t know until all the ballots are cast and counted,” said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University.Ohio election officials, however, warned it could take time to finish the count. If the election is close, county election officials may have to analyze all the provisional ballots – ballots cast by voters who showed up at the polls, but whose names were not on the voter rolls.The story of Ohio’s election was an unprecedented turnout that led to hours-long lines at polling places around the state.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Rosanne Rosen, a 60-year-old freelance writer and Kerry supporter at a polling place in east Columbus.”People are really into this election,” said Gary Dorn, a Bush supporter. “People either love George Bush or they really hate George Bush.”Ohio has long been viewed as a political bellwether, and its mix of industrial cities, farm communities and fast-growing suburbs makes it a microcosm of the nation. Since Ohio residents began casting ballots for president in 1804, the state has voted for the winner 82 percent of the time. No Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio, and only two Democrats have done so since 1900 – Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.Four years ago, Bush won the state by 3.6 percentage points, but with a major asterisk: He had been leading by 10 points in polls heading into the final weekend, meaning the Democrats had made up significant ground because of a strong turnout on election day.Democrats, seeing an opportunity, poured money and manpower into the state, registering hundreds of thousands of new voters, especially in Democratic counties, and dispatching tens of thousands of volunteers to get out the vote.The effort was on display Tuesday at a precinct in Clintonville, north of Columbus, where Berkeley-based MoveOn PAC had 45 volunteers making sure Democratic voters got to the polls. The group had spent months calling voters and knocking on doors to identify voters, who were categorized into several group by acronyms such as “SK” (Strong Kerry), “LK” (Lean Kerry), “U” (Undecided) “SB” (Strong Bush) or “SN” (Strong Nader.)Caroline Clark, one of the group’s Ohio volunteers, explained their election day strategy: “We come back and we follow up with all the people who were undecided, strong Kerry or lean Kerry. We said, ‘You said you planned to vote. We just wanted to make sure you got out and voted.’ “

But Ohio Republicans also built up a formidable ground operation, tapping evangelical and conservative churches to register voters and an army of as many as 80,000 volunteers.”We learned a lot from the last election that we have put to use in this election,” said Jason Mauk, a state GOP spokesman.Early exit polling showed that 25 percent of Ohio voters said the most important issue was the economy, 23 percent felt it was moral values, 16 percent said terrorism and 13 percent said the war in Iraq.Among Ohio voters who said the economy was the most important issue, 85 percent supported Kerry and 15 percent said Bush. Among voters who said Iraq was the top issue, Kerry was favored 75 percent to 25 percent for the president.But Bush held a strong edge on the other issues. For voters who said moral values were their top concern, 83 percent backed Bush and only 17 percent chose Kerry. Ohio voters who said terrorism was the most important issue chose Bush by 89 percent to 11 percent margin.Bush had banked on a huge turnout by evangelical Christians, many of whom were also drawn to vote by an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot. The measure was approved by nearly two-thirds of the vote Tuesday.


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