There is an old adage- but actually relatively new in US history- that the road to the Presidency runs through Ohio. And, in fact, the last time the voters of Ohio sided with a losing candidate was in 1960 when they opted for Republican Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy. This year, it would appear that Ohio is poised to yet again be a major battleground state for the country’s highest office. Generally speaking, the average win margin when a Republican won is 9.95 percentage points. The closest race was in 2004 (Bush v. Kerry). For when the Democrats win, the average win margin is 7.78 points with the closest race decided in 1976 when Jimmy Carter eeked out a 0.27 percentage point victory over Ford.

In polling thus far in Ohio in a Romney versus Obama match-up, the state has gone consistently for Obama since the beginning of the year. Ohio, like most battleground states, is well-polled with a total of 23 polls since the beginning of this year. The following chart shows the ebb and flow of the race in this state so far:

January 1 poll average Obama +2.0
February 4 polls average Obama +1.8
March 3 polls average Obama +8.7
April 3 polls average Obama +4.7
May 5 polls average Obama +5.7
June 3 polls average Obama +3.0
July 3 polls average Obama +4.3
August 1 poll average Obama +6.0

Obviously, the biggest surge in the polls in Ohio for Obama occurred in March of this year when there was still a fight going on for the Republican nomination while the biggest surge for Romney occurred in April when he ate into that large Obama lead. Regarding the three defining events, as concerns Obama, thus far in this election season, in mid-May Obama announced his great gay marriage evolution epiphany. In the only poll in Ohio post-announcement, Romney held a 2 point lead (in a Rasmussen poll). Instead, Obama’s performance in June in Ohio may be more indicative of the effect of his gay marriage announcement on the polling data. In fact, we see a 2.7 point improvement for Romney. It could be argued that his gay marriage stance coupled with his back-door DREAM Act announcement did not resonate well with Ohio voters and could be an area to be exploited by Team Romney in Ohio in the general election. Remember that Ohio is a state that rejected gay marriage in 2004 by a 62%-38% margin, a rather resounding rejection at that. It is doubtful that the average Ohioan’s opinion of gay marriage has changed dramatically in eight short years and a reminder that Obama’s stance on the issue- convoluted as it is- stands at odds with at least 62% of Ohio voters. This should be one area to be exploited if not by Romney, then by independent, outside groups to motivate conservatives in general to turn out. Characterizing another four years of an Obama Administration trying to nationalize a gay marriage agenda is a motivational device to be used in Ohio.

However, everyone believes-rightfully so- that economic issues will determine the outcome of this election. The fact is that Ohio has added some 111,000 jobs since Republican Governor John Kasich assumed office and Ohio’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average and at its lowest point since September, 2008. Obviously, something is going right under Republican leadership in the state and Kasich’s endorsement of Romney in April links that leadership to the Romney agenda. Admittedly, Kasich’s approval ratings are not that high, but neither were those of Rick Scott in Florida or Scott Walker in Wisconsin. That means that approval ratings mean little compared to economic development and lowering unemployment in the state.

Hence, a winning formula for Romney going forward is to stress the successes in Ohio despite the failed Obama stimulus and other economic programs. The one area to exploit, and that may begin today, is with coal. The energy plans of Obama and Romney could not be more divergent. While Obama spouts a good “all of the above” line in speeches, his actions speak louder. Whether it is foot dragging on offshore drilling or denial of the Keystone Pipeline- not to mention his campaign comments about coal- Obama has placed all his eggs in the basket of green energy. Not that green energy is bad per se; chances are that Bain Capital may have even invested in some green energy companies along the way. But unlike Romney, Obama is clearly anti-coal and anti-oil (and probably anti-natural gas and nuclear also). That is, we sit on huge untapped reserves of natural gas and coal- some of the largest in the world- and Ohio sits on top of some of these resources waiting to be exploited. That is precisely why Romney will today begin a 3-stop tour of Ohio in the coal city of Beallsville, Ohio. As I heard it described elsewhere, Beallsville has more in common with rural Pennsylvania and West Virginia than it does with the majority of Ohio. Even still, stressing the importance of exploiting our own natural resources as a means towards energy independence makes greater sense than investing precious dollars in green energy initiatives to the exclusion of fossil fuel development. About 82% of Ohio’s electricity comes from coal. Romney needs to point out that in an Obama America, coal is an enemy and killing that enemy has a cost to the tight purses of every family and business in Ohio. Another 11% comes from nuclear power. That is, over 93% of Ohio’s electricity comes from two sources that Obama is against.

But that issue addresses the concerns of the hills and valleys surrounding the Ohio River. What about the rest of Ohio? This is where entitlement reform becomes important. A recent article on spells out the impending problems for Ohio by noting that Obamacare can- at best (and even that is a stretch)- slow inflation in health care, no reverse or stop it. Through Medicaid, that is one very important consideration for the states and Ohio is not immune from this problem. The article notes that the number of Medicaid-eligible Ohioans has exploded putting further strain on an already-strained state budget. In short, the economic dynamics of the state, like the country, show that “fewer Ohioans earning comparatively less and paying comparatively less in taxes will be working to support the health care costs of an ever growing number of older Ohioans.” In short, the system cries out for fundamental reform beyond tinkering around the edges, and bold political leadership, not politicking.

This is a microcosm of the Republican campaign now that Paul Ryan is on the ticket. Like Ohio’s efforts through Kasich’s Office of Health Transformation, they are developing the blueprint for fundamental entitlement reform to ensure that not only the current target population is covered, but also that future target populations will be covered. The system as is will not stand. The article from not exactly a conservative source of news nevertheless applauds John Kasich and the director of that Health Transformation Office, Greg Moody, for attempting to at least attack the impending problem. Isn’t that exactly what Paul Ryan brings to the table? Sticking one’s head on the sand or politicking to appease some perceived political base in order to maintain the status quo will not solve any problem, least of all entitlement reform. For all of Ohio, that must be the message.

Those polling figures cited at the beginning of this article indicate one thing- the state of Ohio is not particularly happy with Obama as President, but neither are they sure of Mitt Romney as President. As this campaign wears on, Romney and Ryan must present the case to the voters of Ohio that their future will be better if we fire Barack Obama. This can be achieved through three prongs. First, constant reminders through targeted speeches and independent expenditures that Obama and Biden’s stance on social issues- especially gay marriage- stands opposed to 62% of the sentiments of Ohio voters. This will encourage the conservative voters to turn out, especially in the southern part of the state.

Second, they must portray Obama as the enemy of coal and natural gas and thus the enemy of Ohio which has a coal industry on life support. Additionally, given their natural gas resources, Obama and his EPA stand as the enemy to that burgeoning job creator. Third, they must convince current retired and older Ohioans that their entitlement reform plan will not affect them and that it is essential that reform take place to ensure benefits for the future. I would even dare venture that they enter the lion’s den of more liberal areas like Cleveland to make their points.

When looking at the electoral map, it becomes obvious that Ohio is the one state that Mitt Romney must win in order to defeat Obama. A loss here, even with a sweep in the south, would make it almost impossible to win unless he picks up some unlikely help from states like Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin. Although they are possibilities, winning Ohio makes winning those states less absolute. An Ohio win would put Romney one state away from the Oval Office- be it Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, or Nevada. Hence when I look at the electoral map and see neither candidate really showing any discernible trend, it tells me the status quo. Unfortunately, that status quo is named Barack Obama.