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Ohio not just another state

Both Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made stops in Ohio this week.

So much for the rhetoric that Obama can win the election based on a political map without Ohio and Florida. Even if his camp thinks that could happen, it’s clear these are states that will remain central to the campaign.

McCain also knows the importance of Ohio. By now there should be a phrase written on stone at the Republican National Headquarters: “No Republican has ever been elected president without the state of Ohio.”

Obama has made two visits to the Buckeye state in the last two weeks and his campaign says the strategy is to visit as many parts of the state as possible.

Both candidates will have a lot to explain to voters in Ohio.

McCain, for instance, will have to overcome the unpopularity of his party. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland had this to say about McCain’s visit to Youngstown: “I cannot imagine that Sen. McCain could hope to gain political advantage in the Mahoning Valley. It’s an area that has been devastated by the Bush administration’s policies, and I really see nothing in Sen. McCain’s economic policies that would have appeal to folks in these distressed Ohio communities.”

But things won’t be any easier for Obama.

He was soundly defeated by Sen. Hillary Clinton (a 4-to-1 margin) and he had virtually no presence in southeastern Ohio, a key region he will have to carry if he hopes to win here.

The amount of time Obama spends in southeastern Ohio, and the message he brings with him, is uncertain. It is also uncertain if McCain can distance himself from the president and the GOP’s economic platform.

What is certain is that Ohio cannot, and will not, be dismissed as just another state.