Trailing President Barack Obama in Ohio throughout the summer, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is looking to turn the tables by using "Obamacare" as a political weapon to make inroads with traditionally Democratic voters.
Ohio Democrats belittle this strategy. But the Romney campaign sees hidden gold in historically Democratic and swing counties that overwhelmingly voted to approve the Health Care Freedom Amendment, a November 2011 ballot initiative written specifically to rebuke Obama's Affordable Care Act. Even after the Supreme Court decision ruling the law constitutional, the Romney campaign hopes unhappiness with the health care overhaul could turn enough Ohio Democrats against the president to sink his prospects in this key battleground.
"Ohio independents and moderate Democratic voters now view electing Mitt Romney as the only means by which this national health care tax will be repealed," said Chris Maloney, a Romney campaign operative based in the Buckeye State.
Democrats concede that Obama is vulnerable in Ohio, despite current polling that gave him a 3-point edge over Romney in the RealClearPolitics.com average, 47 percent to 44 percent, as of Thursday afternoon. But party strategists based in the Midwest swing state argue that Romney is wasting his time if he thinks he can win Democratic and independent votes through promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act - called "Obamacare" by the president as well as the Republicans.
An Ohio Democratic operative referred to the Health Care Freedom Amendment, known as Issue 3, as the "sideshow" in last November's special election, which was called to determine the fate of Issue 2, a labor reform package pushed by Gov. John Kasich (R). Voters rejected Kasich's proposal, yet they approved Issue 3 with a strong 65 percent of the vote, giving it 66,066 more "yes" votes than the "no" votes garnered by Issue 2.
These statistics, and how the Issue 2 and Issue 3 votes line up from county to county, undergird the Romney campaign's confidence that Obamacare could motivate Democratic and independent support for the former Massachusetts governor. But Democratic strategists said support for Issue 3 is not indicative of what is animating voters heading into the fall elections. Republicans, one Ohio Democratic operative said, "are smoking crack" if they think this tactic will work.
That doesn't mean Democrats aren't concerned about Obama's relationship with moderate Democrats and independent voters, particularly among the white, working-class demographic. But, as elsewhere, the president's underlying weakness in Ohio is a result of anxiety over the economy - and in the eastern part of the state, because of voters' belief that Obama is hostile to coal.
The Democratic operative said the political atmosphere in Ohio is reminiscent of 2004, and he called the state "very, very hostile territory" for Obama. "One of the biggest problems that the Democrats have is structural," this individual added. "The Republicans are running the election."
The Democratic strategist said Republicans are pulling strings at the county level to make voting easier for Republicans and harder for Democrats. The Obama campaign declined to comment.