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Michelle Obama in Cincinnati: Vote now, Ohio

First Lady Michelle Obama gave 6,800 enthusiastic supporters the inspirational speech they sought Tuesday afternoon at the Duke Energy Convention Center; and hammered home the message that brought her here in the first place.

It was the fact that Tuesday was the first day of early voting in Ohio, a key battleground state that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney covet tremendously.

“Here in Ohio it is already election day,’’ the First Lady told a cheering and fired-up crowd at the convention center. “Early voting starts today.”

She urged the crowd of 6,800 – as estimated by Cincinnati Fire Captain Joe Wolf - to join a march after the event to the Hamilton County Board of Elections to register to vote and cast their ballots.

“I know we are going to have a big group who walks over there right now,’’ Mrs. Obama said.

“It’s quick and it’s easy and you can register to vote and cast your ballots at the same time,’’ she said.

And hundreds of them did, immediately after filing out of the convention center after her half-hour speech.

The First Lady was right about registering and voting at the same time – in Ohio, the deadline for voter registration is Oct. 9, which means that between now and then, voters can register at boards of election and instantly cast their ballots.

The First Lady’s visit to the key battleground state of Ohio on the first day of early voting was no coincidence. The Obama-Biden campaign needs a turnout of early voters that matches its numbers in 2008, when Obama won Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote.

“We won Ohio in 2008 with about 262,000 votes,’’ Mrs. Obama said, as the crowd cheered at the memory of the win here which put her husband over the top in electoral votes.

“But wait a minute – understand this,’’ she said, as the crowd grew silent again. “That’s only about 24 votes per precinct.

“That means that just a couple of votes in your block could make the difference, one person in your apartment building,’’ she said. “If you know somebody who is not registered, you must get them registered and get them to vote.”

After voting, though, the First Lady said “we are going to need every one of you to work like you have never worked before.”

“Thirty-five days is a long time,’’ she said. “We can take nothing for granted.”

The polling in Ohio over the past month shows Obama leading Romney, by anywhere from one to 10 percentage points.

Four years ago in Ohio, a surge of tens of thousands of new voters – African-Americans, young people and others – showed up for the first time and helped shape an Obama victory.

Ashley Allison of the Obama-Biden campaign is heading up the campaign’s effort to turn out African-American voters across the state in this year’s campaign.

Allison’s job – using thousands of volunteers – is to make contact with every one of those first time voters.

“We have to reach them and let them know what it is has meant for African-Americans to have President Obama in the White House for the past four years,’’ Allison said.

While the First Lady was revving up the troops at Duke Energy Convention Center, a “Commit to Mitt” bus was rolling across southwest Ohio, carrying a band of Romney campaign volunteers who were making phone calls to voters from the bus, urging them to register and vote early.

The Romney bus started early in the morning outside the Hamilton County GOP headquarters in downtown Cincinnati; and moved on to afternoon stops near the Butler County Board of Elections in Hamilton and the Preble County Board of Elections in Eaton.

Romney HQ on early voting start.JPG
Credit Karen Kasler / Ohio Public Radio
Ohio Public Radio
Volunteers staffing a phone bank at Romney campaign headquarters in Columbus Tuesday morning.

Scott Jennings, Ohio state director of the Romney-Ryan campaign, said they are getting reports on absentee ballot applications from all 88 counties every day and are making contact with voters who have voted in GOP primaries in the past and independent voters.

"Sometime this week, we will have knocked on our 1 millionth door and made our 3 millionth phone call,'' Jennings said.