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Obama wins Ohio again to capture swing state vote

COLUMBUS: Winning Ohio’s 18 electoral votes put President Barack Obama’s race to re-election on cruise control.

Efforts by Mitt Romney’s campaign in the final weeks to counter Obama’s touting of the auto industry bailout appeared to have done little to slow him. Pro-Romney ads had belittled the president’s approach, which Democrats credited with saving plants and many thousands of jobs in the state.

Exit polling of Ohio voters indicated wide approval for the federal help to General Motors and Chrysler, and Obama was boosted by that support. He handily carried northern Ohio area where much of the state’s auto-making work goes on.

Like Republican President George W. Bush in 2004, the Democratic president narrowly won the perennial presidential battleground after one of the most hotly contested races in any state. And losing the 18 electoral votes left Mitt Romney as the latest Republican to be denied the presidency after falling short in Ohio.

With 98 percent of Ohio precincts reporting unofficial results early Wednesday, Obama had 50 percent of the vote and an 86,891-vote lead with more than 5 million votes counted.

Much of both campaigns’ time and advertising spending went into Ohio, and even after months of campaigning, both sides added one final personal pitch on Election Day. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan flew to the Cleveland area, while Vice President Joe Biden made his own surprise stop Tuesday. Both Romney and Obama campaigned in Columbus on Monday.

The auto bailout’s popularity came even though Republicans credited GOP Gov. John Kasich, not Obama, for the state’s recovering economy and reduced unemployment rate.

A disappointed Kasich early Wednesday called for bipartisan cooperation between the president and Congress to work on the federal deficit, debt and other economic issues.

“Working together we can tear down the barriers to growth that are holding Ohio and America back,” Kasich said in a statement.

But former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, defeated by Kasich in 2010, said Obama’s victory would mean more expansion of the middle class, helping people out of poverty and making sure people have access to health care and education.

“America is on the comeback trail,” Strickland said.

A co-chairman of Obama’s campaign, Strickland was in the mood for celebration, especially after the GOP’s big night across Ohio two years earlier.

“Oh, my friends, victory is so sweet, is it not?” he told partisans in Columbus late Tuesday.

For the most part, the results followed expected trends: Obama racked up big margins in Cuyahoga County and other northeast and northern Democratic strongholds, while Romney dominated GOP-majority suburbs and rural areas.

In one of the major swing counties in the nation, Obama again led Cincinnati-area Hamilton County, with nearly 52 percent in unofficial returns. He in 2008 became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the county since 1964.

No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio. The last president elected despite losing Ohio was Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960.

While Strickland worked for Obama, Sen. Rob Portman helped lead Romney’s effort to win Ohio. The narrow defeat in Ohio was already leading to speculation that choosing Portman as his running mate instead of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan could have altered the outcome.

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