Barack Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to end the Republican stranglehold on the southwestern corner of Ohio in the 2008 election, winning in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and its conservative suburbs.
Mr. Obama flipped counties across the Rust Belt, helping him carry Ohio and Indiana and win more traditionally Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But now, as Mr. Obama is in the middle of a two-day “Betting on America” bus tour across Ohio and Pennsylvania, political analysts said he will have to reassemble the “hope and change” demographic coalition of 2008 that relied on a high turnout of youths and blacks, and winning a larger-than-usual percentage of Hispanics and whites.
“Somehow, he again has to drive up the turnout among blacks, Latinos and other minorities who strongly supported him four years ago,” said Mark J. Rozell, a George Mason University political science professor. “But also, and perhaps most difficult, he somehow has to reach working-class white voters who have turned away from him in large numbers since 2008.”
By most accounts, that will be easier said than done, especially after the elections in 2010, when voters sent a strong message of discontent to Mr. Obama by electing Republicans in nearly every competitive race in the Rust Belt and pulling the plug on the Democrats’ four-year reign in the House.
Furthermore, each of Ohio’s 88 counties, including the Democratic stronghold of Cuyahoga, overwhelmingly supported State Issue 3 in 2011, which aimed to undercut the president’s health care law.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett cited the 2010 elections and Mr. Obama’s poor primary performances this year in Kentucky, where 42 percent of the vote went “uncommitted,” and West Virginia, where 40 percent of the vote went to federal inmate Keith Judd, as proof that the incumbent is out of sync with Rust Belters, particularly those living in southeastern Ohio, which Mr. Bennett dubbed “our Appalachian Bible Belt area.”
“Those people think the same way as those people in West Virginia and Kentucky do,” Mr. Bennett said before making the case that Mr. Obama’s policies on coal and energy, as well as his support for same-sex marriage, don’t sit well with those voters.
“They are not supporting Obama this time around, and he picked up a lot of votes down there in ‘08,” he said.
Henry Olsen, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s National Research Initiative, said things haven’t deteriorated that much for Mr. Obama.
“So far, Mr. Obama’s Rust Belt coalition remains largely intact,” he said. Handicapping the race, he put Mr. Obama’s chances of retaining Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin at around 2-to-1 and of hanging on to Ohio and Iowa at about 55 percent to 45 percent.
Mr. Obama’s victories across the industrial Midwest were built on maximizing turnout among key supporters, and not getting swamped among white voters.
“The reason Obama won Ohio is because of a lower-than-average turnout for whites and an extremely strong turnout for blacks,” said William H. Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who noted similar scenarios in other battleground states, including Florida and Nevada.
“It is a trade-off between the turnout enthusiasm of blue-collar whites in those states and the turnout and enthusiasm of the growing minority populations,” he said.
But rebuilding that coalition will be an uphill battle unless he can reverse the 2010 trend, when blue-collar white voters swung against Mr. Obama and his party.