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Jeeps and ground game won Ohio for Obama

Here are some things to think about while you are rejoicing over or bemoaning the fact that Ohio put Barack Obama over the top and gave him another four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Think ground game.

Think a Democratic electorate – particularly African-Americans – riled up over their deeply held belief that top Ohio Republicans were doing everything they could to suppress the vote.

And think Jeep.

Jeep, as in the vehicle Chrysler makes in Toledo, Ohio.

Mitt Romney may have stepped in it a couple of weeks ago when he appeared before a huge crowd in Defiance, Ohio, not from the Toledo Jeep plant.

There, Romney proclaimed that he had “read a story” that suggested Chrysler was going to move its U.S. Jeep production to China; and blamed Obama for doing nothing about it.

Chrysler’s CEO came out immediately and said there was not a shred of truth in that statement; that Chrysler was thinking of producing Jeeps in China to tap into the world’s largest car-buying market, but had no intention of ending its U.S. production.

Newspaper editorials in northwest and northeast Ohio beat on Romney like a rented mule; and Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and every Democratic leader in Ohio jumped all over him like a cheap suit.

There was no way Romney could get out of the hole he had dug for himself.

And it showed up in the results Tuesday.

Romney, as expected, easily won the largely rural counties that line I-75 from Dayton to Toledo; and most of counties in the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio.

But Obama rolled up big numbers in northern Ohio, where the auto industry in Ohio is centered; and that issue was behind the wheel. That, and the fact that Obama was responsible for the auto industry bailout in 2009 that he claimed saved or created 850,000 jobs in Ohio; and made it possible for General Motors to add workers and shifts at their plant in Lordstown to produce the Chevy Cruze.

“The economic issue that made the difference was the auto industry bailout,’’ said pollster Eric Rademacher, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research, which conducts the Ohio Poll. “That was the biggest factor. Obama made it work for him in northern Ohio.”

Romney, Rademacher said, “wasn’t able to galvanize the Republican turnout in the southern part of the state that would negate what that issue did for Obama in the north.”

Then there was the ground game – the get-out-the-vote effort that the Obama campaign spread throughout Ohio like the morning dew.

It was everywhere – in inner-city neighborhoods, in unlikely Republican suburban strongholds like Mason, in small towns like Gallipolis and Troy. There were well over 100 Obama-Biden campaign offices spread out through the state – about four times as many as the Romney-Ryan and the Ohio Republican Party had.

And it was not created overnight. It has been here since the morning after the election four years ago, in the form of Organizing for American, Obama’s non-election year political arm, which remained active and visible in Ohio throughout Obama’s first term. They were particularly visible last year, in the successful campaign with organized labor to defeat Senate Bill 5, which would have limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

That successful anti-Senate Bill 5 campaign was a dry run for what happened Tuesday – an early voting effort that gave Obama a 100,000 vote margin in Cuyahoga County and a 15,000 vote lead in Hamilton County, even before the polls opened in Ohio early Tuesday morning.

“At the end of the day, both Democrats and Republicans are going to learn a lot from this election about running a campaign in Ohio,’’ Rademacher said. “And the importance of getting votes nailed down early, before election day.”

It was clear, particularly in the large urban areas, that Democrats were enraged over GOP attempts to limit early voting hours. The Republican legislature and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted were thwarted by the federal courts.

Democrats, particularly African-Americans, were angry; and determined to come out to vote. That was clear this past weekend in Hamilton County when long lines of voters lined up outside the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cast early ballots.

Those lines were chock full of Obama voters.

The lesson for the GOP, as far as Ohio is concerned, may well be this:

Don’t kick a sleeping bear.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.