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COLUMBUS, Ohio--By now we all know how historically important Ohio is for anyone who wants to be president. No Republican has ever been elected to the White House without carrying Ohio. The Buckeye State, alone of the 50, has voted for the winning presidential nominee in every one of the last 12 national elections.
This year, Ohio is up for grabs, and both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, including their running mates and relatives, can generally be found somewhere within driving distance of Chillicothe or Ashtabula or Pepper Pike.
So one week after what was, for Democrats, the disastrous first presidential debate in Denver--
The reason this session was so special is that while the participants were honest and interesting, the focus group was masterfully led for the Annenberg Public Policy Center by respected Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart.
To listen to these Columbus voices was to appreciate how effectively Romney routed Obama in the Denver debate.
Mike Larger, 35, who sells IT computer equipment and voted for Republican John Kasich for Ohio governor in 2010 and Obama in 2008, said the debate "definitely left me leaning more toward Romney." Copywriter Terri Grenier, who backed McCain in 2008, was impressed by Romney, who "came off like a man who really wanted the job--aggressive, but polite."
Homemaker and former nurse scheduler Jessica Hall, also 35 and a John McCain voter, said of Obama in the debate: "I was so disappointed in his performance," adding that the incumbent was "not prepared for how aggressive Mitt Romney was going to be." Then came this dagger: "I expected him to be a lot stronger than he was."
Americans will elect and tolerate presidents who are not charming or brilliant or original. But any national candidate who is judged to be "not strong" will suffer rejection. Any impression of weakness, rather than charges of apathy or arrogance, would be the most damaging fallout from Obama's loss in the first debate.