It is one of the most politically important states whose votes are still up for grabs. That's why Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and President Obama are criss crossing Ohio this week, searching for support.
Welcome to Ohio: the Buckeye state, with a hefty eighteen electoral college votes, making it second only to Florida among the handful of swing states where the presidential election is still, just about, in play.
I say just about, because practically every opinion poll has put Barack Obama in the lead: the latest, from the University of Cincinnati, the most accurate predictor in the state, puts the president five points ahead of Mitt Romney among likely voters.
All this matters, because no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio: no Democrat since John F Kennedy has managed without Ohio's support. That's why Obama has visited the state about once a fortnight, on average.
And it's why Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have launched a bus tour, a new advertising blitz, and are busy pouring new cash and resources into Ohio, in an effort to turn around their flagging fortunes. Their chances could well depend on it.
There are two different campaigns: one in the battlegrounds, one everywhere else. Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager
So what's quite so special about Ohio? It has a fairly diverse population: plenty of blue collar voters, professional middle classes in the suburbs, gritty urban centres like Cleveland and Cincinnati, while the Appalacian foothills stretch away to the southeast.
NBC news estimates that an astonishing $122,485,400 has been spent by both campaigns in Ohio, with Obama outspending Romney by more than five million dollars. Turn on the television, and every commercial break for months has been packed with political ads by the campaigns and their supporters.
This week, both sides are pitching firmly for the blue collar vote. Team Obama are keen to press home their advantage, after the leaked video of Romney at a fundraiser basically writing off the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal taxes, and Romney's persistent reticence over his own tax returns.
"Doesn't the president have to worry about everyone?" asks the ad. "Mitt Romney paid just 14.1% in taxes last year. He keeps millions in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands... Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Romney should come clean on his."
The Romney ad accuses Obama of failing to stand up to China, while American jobs go overseas, while the campaign's Ohio bus tour is focusing on trade, energy policy and, of course the economy.
But Ohio has been doing rather better than most of America: unemployment here has fallen to a point below the national average. On top of that, the state's biggest story is Obama's bailout of the auto industry, rescuing a sector on which hundreds of thousands of jobs depend.
Republican brand damaged
Add to that, the failure of a Republican effort to curb collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, defeated in a state-wide ballot last year after an intensive campaign by the unions, and the GOP brand is looking fairly damaged.
Paul Sracic, head of political science at Youngstown State University in Ohio, told Channel 4 News that Romney had probably "got all the blue collar votes he can get." But, he added, the race wasn't over yet. He said the Republicans were actively going after suburban professionals: the kind of voters who have no links to the car industry and are suspicious of state bailouts.
And, crucially, the kind of voters who have turned out for the GOP before, helping George W Bush win the state back in 2004. "Bush won, because he won the suburban vote so overhwelmingly: that was Karl Rove's big achievement", says Sracic. "But I haven't yet seen a lot of evidence the Republicans are doing the same thing this time around."
The Democrats are at a rather different stage in their campaigning efforts: getting their supporters to turn out. Early voting begins in Ohio just over a week from now: something that President Obama has not failed to notice, urging students the other week: "If you vote early, then you can spend the rest of the time getting other folks to vote".
Vote early, vote often
For campaign manager Jim Messina, nationwide tracking polls which show the race is practically a dead heat, are meaningless: the Ohio story is reflected in the vast majority of swing states, albeit within the margin of error. "There are two different campaigns", he told reporters: "one in the battlegrounds, and one everywhere else."
That's why even the rural voters of Appalachia, who roundly rejected the Democrats in the midterms two years ago, will still be treated to an onslaught of Democratic advertising, hitting at Mitt Romney's record on jobs, ramming home that image of a guy who wants to fire you, rather than help you back into work.
Despite the millions spent on ads, the ground game is just as crucial. Paul Sracic says he's seen adverts rub by the Obama team, offering potential campaign workers $12 an hour. "The Romney people have nothing like that." At the moment, perhaps: but there is a treasure chest still to spend, and weeks to persuade every likely voter to the polls.
This, then, is the battle for Ohio: a hundred and twenty two million dollars spent, and it's not nearly over, not yet.
Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News
12 September 2012
17 December 2010