Winner takes all: Ohio is a must-win for President Obama and Mitt Romney

Jake Tapper, Devin Dwyer, Mary Bruce & Sherisse Pham
Power Players

Political Punch

President Obama has visited Ohio more than 20 times this year alone. To ensure a smooth electoral college victory, the Buckeye State is a must-win for the president. As for GOP candidate Mitt Romney -- no Republican has won the White House without Ohio.

This election cycle, Ohio has been like its own political science experiment, one where Ohioans are subjected to an endless loop of political ads. Voters here have been pummeled by more ads than any other state in the country -- more than 205,000 during the general election campaign alone. The majority of those ads have been pro-Obama; 16,000 more ads in Ohio have backed the president over Romney and Republicans.

"We don't watch TV anymore. I'm sorry we mute you all ... during the commercials," says Paul Kostyu, reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The pro-Obama group Priorities USA Action began airing their Ohio ads in mid-May -- 25 weeks before election day.

Perhaps because the buy seemed relatively small, the Romney camp did not immediately respond to them. The Obama campaign continued the attacks through the spring and summer, hammering Romney on Bain Capital, and pushing the notion that he was more Gordon Gekko than Bill Gates.

One Republican strategist said one ad, called "Stage," single-handedly killed Romney in Ohio. That is hyperbolic, but "Stage" clearly is one of the few ads that people in this state remember, and not in a good way for Mitt Romney. One voter in a focus group said the ad made him want to "put Mitt Romney in a garbage can."

Three months later, Romney and his allied outside groups responded, with an ad boasting Romney as the hero who saved the 2002 Winter Olympics.

With a struggling economy, and voters worried about the direction of the country and wary of the president's economic performance, Romney still has a chance in Ohio. But the president will not give up without a fight.

"Obama's got to win Cincinnati proper and get as much as he can out of the counties around it," says Paul Kostyu, the Cincinnati Enquirer reporter.

The president has strong support across the northern part of the state, from Cleveland to Toledo, and pockets of Columbus and Cincinnati, says Kostyu. Romney, he adds, has pretty much everything else.

For more on how the candidates are carving out their slices of the Ohio map, including ABC's Jake Tapper literally drawing Ohio in the sand, and early numbers that could call it for Romney, check out this week's Political Punch.