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'Midwest Firewall' Helps Secure Obama Victory

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A key to President Obama's victory was a bloc of states in the Midwest. They're states he carried four years ago with large working class populations - Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. Toss in Iowa and Pennsylvania and you have the core of the president's reelection effort. The strategy held in 2012 and why it held can be seen in the all important state of Ohio.

NPR's Don Gonyea made Ohio his second home during this race and he sent this story.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: All along, the Obama campaign and Ohio Democrats maintained that they'd carry the state if they did their job. They got their reward just after 11:00 p.m. last night when the giant TV screens in a ballroom at a downtown Columbus hotel projected the state and the election going for Mr. Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

GONYEA: Here's how the Obama campaign scored a surprisingly big and early win in Ohio. First, way back four years ago, they knew they'd have to defend this turf again in 2012, so they maintained field offices in the state and outnumbered GOP offices by 3 to 1 this fall. They fine-tuned and upgraded their ground game and voter targeting even as Republicans also poured money and resources into their own newly beefed up get-out-the-vote effort.

As votes were being cast yesterday, Lee Saunders, president of the AFSCME public employees union was in Columbus.

LEE SAUNDERS: We have a better ground game. We have made over 2 million contacts here in this state. We have a ferocious ground game and our people are engaged. They're mobilizing. They're energizing our base.

GONYEA: Union volunteers were working right up until the polls closed in Ohio yesterday. Same for Obama For America canvassers, sometimes even talking to people in cars who waved and stopped them to ask questions. This was around noon yesterday on the eastside of Columbus. A woman wanted to know if she had the proper ID as she drove to the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And this is his address here?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And his name, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And his name? That should be sufficient enough. I would go and try to use this and hold the ID back. And then, if you have to...

GONYEA: The Obama campaign also took advantage of an ugly battle between unions and a couple of Republican governors, John Kasich in Ohio and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The fight was over collective bargaining rights and goes back to 2011. But AFSCME's Lee Saunders says it was still a huge motivator in this election.

SAUNDERS: And they know that if Mitt Romney is elected president then he's going to try to implement the kinds of things that Kasich and Scott Walker did.

GONYEA: And through it all, the president's campaign kept its focus on the economy in Ohio where the unemployment rate had improved significantly since '08 and where the federal bailout of the auto industry is very popular. The Romney campaign gave Democrats a gift when it made a late play in Ohio, accusing Chrysler and GM of taking federal bailout money while planning to transfer Ohio auto jobs to China.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.

GONYEA: Fact checkers ruled the ad's claims false and even auto executives denounced it, teeing things up for President Obama at Ohio campaign rallies.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These car companies are putting a lot of effort to make great products, but also to, you know, make sure that everybody in America knows how committed they are to making cars here in America. And so, you don't scare off hard-working Americans just to scare up some votes. That's not what being president's all about.

GONYEA: That message carried weight not just in Ohio, but in nearly every battleground state. Now, back to last night.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Four more years, four more years, four more years.

GONYEA: Ohio's Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who won reelection, offered his instant interpretation of the results.

SENATOR SHERROD BROWN: The middle class won again.

GONYEA: Stephanie Peterson, who works for a health care provider, was excitedly taking it all in at the victory party, but she admitted it feels a lot different than four years ago.

STEPHANIE PETERSON: Oh, hell, yes. It felt like a struggle. I felt his pressure. I really did. And I could scream it's so good, it's so good. I can't talk. Just let me enjoy my (unintelligible).

GONYEA: But she didn't want to talk campaign strategy or why it worked. She said she was simply too excited to think about such things, then she let out another cheer. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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