COLUMBUS, Ohio—White House press secretary Scott McClellan wandered into the press cabin on Air Force One this week to let the media know where President Bush would be campaigning. On Thursday, Pennsylvania. On Friday, Pennsylvania and Florida. On Saturday, Florida. Those are two of the presidential campaign's "Big Three" states, which nearly everyone assumes will decide the election. The glaring omission: Ohio.
"Why aren't we going to Ohio? The president hasn't been there in several weeks," a reporter asked McClellan after the plane landed. Oops, the president will head to Canton on Friday, McClellan said. "I think I forgot to mention Ohio."
McClellan's lapse is understandable. Bush seems to have forgotten about Ohio, too. "The Bush campaign is confident it can win the state; as if to prove its comfort level, today marks 14 days since the Republican president last set foot in Ohio," Cleveland's Plain Dealer wrote this past Saturday. By the time Bush arrives in Canton tomorrow, he'll have gone 19 days without campaigning in the Buckeye State. His last stop here was in Cuyahoga Falls on Oct. 2.
Since then, John Kerry has held a town hall in Austintown on Oct. 3, a rally and a roundtable discussion in Elyria on Oct. 9, and a bus trip through Ohio's Appalachia on Saturday, Oct. 16. This week alone, he went to a Baptist church in Columbus, spoke at a minor-league ballpark in Dayton, went goose hunting near Youngstown, and delivered a speech on science in Columbus. According to the "Ohio pool" being held by members of Kerry's traveling press and staff (they're wagering on how many days the campaign will spend in Ohio between March 17 and Nov. 2), Kerry spent eight of the first 21 days of October in Ohio. He'd spent only 14 days in the state before this month.
Ohio and Florida remain central to Kerry's Electoral College strategy. But for Bush, has Ohio been demoted? He's not going to start spending a lot of time in Ohio over the next few days after his Canton toe-touch. Here's his schedule after the Saturday trip to Florida: New Mexico on Sunday, Colorado and Iowa on Monday, and Wisconsin and Iowa on Tuesday. (Sunday's Alamogordo, N.M., rally is a change from the schedule issued two days ago, which showed President Bush spending the day at his Crawford ranch, with no public events. The late-inning vacation is one mistake from 2000 that Bush has apparently decided not to repeat.)
Bush hasn't quite ceded Ohio. Vice President Cheney spent some time here this week, as did Condoleezza Rice and the Bush daughters. But Cheney's also been to Michigan, a state that's not exactly on the A-list of battleground states. For Bush's victory strategy, Ohio may be a state more like Michigan and Pennsylvania than a state like Florida: Winning it would kill Kerry, but losing it wouldn't kill Bush.
ABC's The Note drew up this scenario earlier in the week: Kerry wins Ohio and Pennsylvania, but Bush wins the presidency by carrying Florida, Wisconsin, and two out of three from Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico. Maybe we should start calling Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico the "Little Four." Or maybe the Big Three should annex Iowa and Wisconsin and become the Big Five. The electoral scorecard from Slate's William Saletan estimates that if the election were held today, Bush would win the presidency while losing Ohio by picking up both Iowa and Wisconsin (and holding Nevada).
Lots of Democrats took heart when the blogger Mystery Pollster declared that Bush was losing Ohio. But Ohio isn't this year's Florida, the one state Bush can't do without. It looks like Florida still is.