- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

With all eyes on Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential primary, Republican Sen. John McCain yesterday slipped into Ohio, getting an early start on targeting swing independents and moderate Democrats in the battleground state.

Ohio has been decisive in each of the last two presidential elections, and no Republican has ever won the White House without winning there. While Mr. McCain’s campaign hopes to expand the number of states in play this November, Ohio will most likely be one of just a handful of tossup states — again.

“It will be extremely important again this year. It was the pivotal state in the president being re-elected in 2004,” said Jo Ann Davidson, co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a former speaker of the Ohio House.

“Ohio will be in play again this year, and I think Senator McCain will appeal to the independent voter there,” she said.

On his stop in Youngstown, the Republican sought to woo so-called “Reagan Democrats,” moderates who helped deliver victories to Ronald Reagan and Mr. Bush.

Republican strategist Scott Reed said Mr. McCain’s focus so early on Ohio signals the campaign’s fall strategy.

“History matters in national politics, and no matter who the Democrats ultimately nominate, the Buckeye State will be one of the most sought-after Electoral College prizes in the fall. McCain’s trip to Youngstown this week is just the beginning of a full-court press,” he said.

Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh agreed, saying that “down-scale white working men” traditionally support the Democratic candidate, but “in the last two elections, they voted for Bush and against their economic interests.”

“Now, with the economy so bad, they are looking for someone who will help them. They might be more comfortable with McCain, but only if he provides a real economic plan,” she said.

With Democrats locked in a prolonged battle to select their presidential nominee, Mr. McCain has been virtually unassailed since he locked up the Republican nomination last month. Mr. Reed said that has given the candidate a chance to take “his conservative message to some of these nontraditional Republican areas as the Democrats continue their demolition derby.”

“Conservative Democrats and independents will warm to McCain’s message, and he has a chance to hold on to them through the fall. McCain is filling a huge political void that exists right now and using this time wisely to cover some fertile ground,” he said.

On the second day of a weeklong tour of “forgotten places in America,” Mr. McCain took the unusual tack of playing up his underdog status by visiting the economically stalled city of Youngstown, saying residents there can make a comeback just as his moribund campaign did last summer.

“As I recall, a few pollsters even declared my campaign a hopeless cause, and there was no margin of error to soften the blow,” Mr. McCain said. “You’ve been written off a few times yourselves, in the competition of the market. … You know how it feels to hear that good things are happening in the American economy — they’re just not happening to you.”

But he delivered some of his patented “straight talk” to those who hope for a return to the glory days, when the city was overflowing with jobs in the steel industry before losing 188,000 jobs in the last seven years.

“I can’t tell you that these jobs are ever coming back to this magnificent part of the country,” Mr. McCain said at Youngstown State University. “But I will commit to giving these workers a second chance. They need it; they deserve it.”

In an unusual move, Mr. McCain last week put up a TV ad in the Youngstown area — even though the election is still months away. In response, the Ohio Democratic Party put up an ad — the first such ad by a state Democratic Party since Mr. McCain all but clinched the Republican nomination.

The ad, titled “More of the Same,” seeks to link Mr. McCain to Mr. Bush and criticizes his economic plans.

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