But maybe things will be dramatically different in Ohio this year. Just maybe. In a conference call with Sen. Hillary Clinton on Monday, Gov. Ted Strickland, one of her strongest supporters in the primary, said the Ohio race was a "dead heat" at this point but assured her that the Democrats' organization was in much better shape this year to claim victory for Barack Obama. In turn, Hillary promised to campaign ardently "up and down the state" for her primary opponent, adding that four more years of a Republican in White House was not an option. (Full disclosure: heard the whole conversation on a BlackBerry.)
The main thrust of the party's confidence is the synergy between the Obama campaign and local party officials. In past campaigns it was not uncommon to hear the locals complaining about the elites from the national campaign staff who were messing up things. Not so this year, says Wayne Jones, the Summit County Democratic chairman, whose faint smile these days suggests something pleases him more than usual. "A great thing is about to happen," he said at lunch, and he wasn't merely referring to his chili and salad. He said he's been impressed by the scope and professionalism of Obama's troops this year.
Summit County, of course, has long been unqualified Democratic territory. But Jones also likes the numbers this year: Statewide, he says, the army of Obama workers had set a goal of canvassing 118,000 homes the past weekend, a number arrived at to equal the margin of John Kerry's loss (So to speak!) to Bush in Ohio in 2004. "Instead they went door-to-door to 173,000 homes," he said. Other pluses, he noted, are a Democratic governor in the Statehouse, as well as Democrats newly occupying all other state offices with the exception of auditor. The Democrats also have the secretary of state's office. Remember how Ken Blackwell, the former occupant who was trounced by Strickland, sank deeply into the mire of confusion on how an honest election would be carried out in 2004. His departure and those of others translate into a lot more political power in the precincts and at the polls for the Democrats. .
New registrations have risen dramatically for the party and early absentee vote requests (30,000 now in hand) suggest only the beginning of a big year, Jones says.
Again, it shouldn't be this close in a state whose image as a troubled geographical reference point is only remembered, and often mocked, nationally every four years as a "battleground" state until the exit polls report the inevitable. True, it might be different this year. Quite different. But I think I'll wait a little longer.