Life in Ohio, Center of the Political Universe

Voters in America's most significant swing state are ready for the presidential race to be over -- but the candidates won't leave them alone.



ETNA, Ohio -- People in Ohio are just like you and me: They can't wait for this presidential campaign to end.

"Let's just say we're pretty sick of all the ads, all the phone calls. We've had enough!" Paula Dillon, a 50-year-old teacher's aide at a high school in this Columbus suburb, told me. The robocalls pile up on her home answering machine: six, seven, 10 a day. "I don't listen to any of it anymore," she said. "I just hit erase."

As Election Day draws nigh, the major sentiment of the American people appears to be not excitement or jubilation or even nervousness -- it is exhaustion. Last week, a video of a 4-year-old girl crying because, she told her mother, she was "tired of Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney" became a nationwide sensation, attracting millions of views and prompting National Public Radio, the source of the election news that so distressed Abigael Evans, to apologize to the youngster.

At Romney's campaign rallies Friday, the crowd chanted, "Four more days!" -- looking forward to the president's comeuppance, but also seeming eager for the sheer end of the campaign. "Absolutely, I can't wait for it to end," said 47-year-old Jim Snyder, a pharmacist from Reynoldsburg, who is still being inundated with campaign mail and phone calls even though he voted days ago. "It's just way, way too much."

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The candidates, each of whom is plane-hopping to four states a day in these final days, seem exhausted. Romney, generally an early-to-bed type, landed in New Hampshire at 1 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, a slumbering grandson draped over his shoulder; by 8:50 a.m., he was back on his feet, headed for the day's first campaign rally. Obama began his day at FEMA headquarters in Washington at 8 a.m. Saturday, was in Cleveland by 11:30, and would see Wisconsin, Iowa, and Virginia before the day was over past midnight.

Naturally, no one is sicker of it than the press. "I have talked to so many Ohio voters," one longtime member of the Romney press corps groaned as we met at Romney's rally here, which drew about 2,500 to a cavernous sheet-metal warehouse. "I just want to go home," another said through chattering teeth at Romney's Friday night mega-rally outside Cincinnati. On the Romney bus the next day, a grateful press corps found vials of 5-Hour Energy waiting on their seats.

But it is the residents of the Buckeye State, America's swing state on steroids, who bear the brunt of election overload. "You've already been here twice!" a man told 28-year-old Teamsters member Jennifer Knapmeyer when she came to his door looking for his housemates Saturday afternoon. "You know they're going to vote!" But they hadn't voted yet, Knapmeyer sighed as she walked away, so they could count on one or two more visits a day through Tuesday.

"We are sure going to miss the 9,000 TV ads every day," Shannon Burns, a Cleveland-based Republican consultant, said sarcastically. (About $150 million has been spent on television in the presidential race in Ohio.) Ohioans never have to travel to see presidential candidates these days, he noted: "If you just stay in one place in this state, they'll be there sooner or later."

Indeed, in the last days of the campaign, Ohio would see Romney Friday (twice), Sunday and Monday, while the president toured three different Ohio cities Friday and would set foot in a different part of the state each of the last three days of the campaign. On Sunday, the two nominees and their running mates were all scheduled to be campaigning in different parts of Ohio. On Monday, Obama was scheduled to bring along Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen.

The Ohioans, ready as they are for this to be over, are nonetheless troupers about the whole deal. They keep coming out to see the candidates, even after they've done their duty and voted. They are good listeners and cheerful partisans. The candidates are always careful to include shout-outs to the importance of the state -- "Your state is the one I'm counting on, by the way," Romney said, "it's the one I need to win!" -- and these lines, often the only quotations that make it into the report on the local news or in the local paper, flatter Ohioans' pride.

"This is the heartland," Larry McCullough, a 65-year-old from Loveland, told me when I asked if it was fair for one state to so monopolize the presidential race. "We're the 'Mother of Presidents.' It's the natural order." (McCullough and his wife got rid of their land line after the 2010 election -- too many political calls.)

Why are Americans so sick of the campaign, anyway? Isn't democracy a wonderful thing? Are political commercials so much worse than, say, detergent commercials? Sure, there's a lot of negativity and strife, but we are also a nation that eagerly tunes in to television shows where people eat bugs and women compete for the affections of marginal celebrities. You don't hear people moaning around the water cooler that they can't wait for the NFL or American Idol season to be over already. The nation that created Ultimate Fighting, because old-fashioned boxing was not violent enough, suddenly becomes timid and sensitive at the prospect of elected officials calling each other names, and demands to be left alone.

Not everyone is such a shrinking violet. Joelle Forgrave, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mother in Blacklick, attended her second Romney rally in as many weeks here on Friday, bringing her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and 14-month-old son. She still remembers when she was a little girl and her dad took her to a Reagan reelection rally; she hopes she's making the same kind of memories for her daughter.

Seeing Romney in person was inspiring both times, Forgrave said, but she wasn't looking forward to turning on the television. "I fast-forward the commercials," she said. "They're so extreme, I can't stand them. I'm ready for it to be over."