He's running away with Ohio's famous cookie poll, but the actual polls aren't so bleak for McCain.

A guide to the swing states.
Oct. 28 2008 5:58 PM

Sweet on Obama

He's running away with Ohio's famous cookie poll, but the actual polls aren't so bleak for McCain.

Read the rest of the Swingers series.

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"The day she and John McCain appeared at the Nutter Center, there was an instant surge in the number of volunteers," says former Sen. Mike DeWine, chairman of McCain's Ohio campaign. In Summit County alone, he says, home to Akron, 112 people called to volunteer that same afternoon. (In the previous week, it had received a total of four calls.)

It's hard to say whether a significant number of Hillary voters have defected to McCain. But the ones who have done so are heartfelt and outspoken. I attended a Palin rally in early October in Wilmington, and one of the warm-up speakers was "Cynthia from Columbus," who said McCain appealed to her because of his bipartisanship, his experience, and his judgment. And standing in front of me were Lynn and Andrea King, a mother and daughter who supported Clinton during the primaries but now plan to vote for McCain.

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"We were very angry that Obama didn't pick her as vice president," Andrea said. "We were angry to begin with that she didn't win the primary." Lynn said her support for the Republican Party may outlast this campaign. "I have a real bad taste in my mouth for Democrats right now, for the way they treated Hillary Clinton," she said. "And then after she was a dead horse, they said, 'Oh, she'd have made a great president.' She was treated poorly by her own people."

For their part, the Democrats I talked to are not too worried about disgruntled Clinton supporters tipping the state for McCain. And there are surely many voters like Niti Patel of Cincinnati, who said that, while Hillary never appealed to her, the selection of Palin drove her into the Obama camp. "I was wavering between Obama and McCain until he picked her. She's just. …" She trailed off, unable to find the right words.

Sarah Palin speaks to a crowd at a rally in Ohio. Click image to expand.
McCain and Palin at an Ohio rally 

There's no denying, though, that Palin has fired up a part of the Republican base that was wavering in its support of McCain. And it's fired up the women in the party. There were significantly more women than men in the crowd at that rally in Wilmington. And a good many were decked out or accessorized in pink. Pink T-shirts with the GOP elephant and "It's a girl." Black T-shirts with "Read my lipstick" in pink lettering. There was even a woman whose resemblance to Palin inspired her to dress up like the governor, complete with the black power suit, half-upswept hairdo, and oversized flag pin.

More significant, perhaps, was the enthusiasm of the women who spoke before Palin. They got the crowd cheering louder.

Before the rally, I met Lois Lomley and Shirley Schulz in the long line snaking into the conference center. Both were wearing "Read my lipstick" T-shirts. Before McCain chose Palin, "my vote was more based on the issues," Lomley says. "But she's a quick study and a breath of fresh air. She's accomplished so much."

For all the controversy about Palin's invocation of the "heartland" theme and her small-town and "real America" rhetoric, it's not turning off anyone who is inclined to support her. Even when she steps off the campaign bus to make a quick stop at Wal-Mart to buy diapers for Trig, as she did in Gallipolis a few weeks ago, she creates a sensation.

DeWine was with her that day. "When you put 12,000 people in an open field in Belmont County, which is historically a Democrat county going back 100 years, that's a lot of people," he says. "She's energizing a large number of volunteers. The reason is that she's real. … She's authentic. That's really the attraction."

Of course, hers is not the only name on the ticket. The one thread of a silver lining in the latest Quinnipiac poll of Ohio, which shows Obama with a 14-point lead, is that voters trust McCain more on foreign policy. That's why Marshall Lilly, a moderate independent who's a nonproliferation officer in the office of Iranian affairs at the State Department, is supporting McCain. (He'll vote absentee in Ohio, as he recently moved to Washington and is very careful to clarify that his opinions are his own and that he's not speaking on behalf of the State Department.) "I think we saw the consequences of having a very inexperienced president and a very experienced, strong, and forceful vice president with Bush and Cheney," he says. "That's not something I would like to see repeated."

It may not be the most ringing endorsement of Republican stewardship. Then again, the McCain campaign will take its support where it can get it—and it's at pains to show that it's not giving up. The Ohio Newspaper Poll shows Obama leading the state by three points but has McCain leading by significant margins in southern and central Ohio, and he and Palin are fighting particularly hard in those areas. McCain and/or Palin has made more than two dozen stops in the state since August.

All of which is encouraging to state campaign chairman Mike DeWine. Either that or he's just keeping up a brave face. "We're going to carry Ohio," he says, in one of the most unsurprising statements of the campaign.

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