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Inside Ohio: A Fund Manager’s Take on the Battle for the Buckeye State


For 52 years, the great state of Ohio has correctly predicted who would occupy the Oval Office, having wrongly gone with Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy in 1960. Since then, much has changed in this tightly contested battleground state, most notably that its population - and therefore electoral votes - have steadily come down from 25 in 1972 to just 18 today.

Even so, this Midwestern prize is sufficient enough to draw two Presidential candidates within its borders on many days, including today, as both Mitt Romney and the President try to drum up support on the state's final day of voter registration.

Statistically, Ohio has gone Republican in 6 of the past 10 Presidential elections, although 3 of the last 5 have gone Democratic since 1992. While most polls now show the state as either a slight advantage for Obama or a statistical dead heat, those who know the place best say it's a microcosm of the nation.

"As you go latitudinally down the state, the closer you get to Lake Erie it is a far more Democratic leaning constituency and the closer you get to Cincinnati, it's a bit more Republican, while in central Ohio, where I am, is kind of a melting pot," says John Lewis, founder and CIO of New Albany Capital Partners in Columbus.

One issue that stands out to Lewis is Ohio's below average unemployment rate, which at 7.2% is well below the latest national reading at 7.8%. It would seem this would make it a slam dunk state for the President, but Lewis explains it is more nuanced than the raw data would suggest.

"Not only did we see (unemployment) a little worse in the great recession, but we've recovered not only better, but faster," Lewis says of the declining rate, pointing out that a lot of that recent velocity has come in the past two years under the stewardship of newly elected Republican Governor John Kasich, who took office in 2011.

Lewis also highlights a ''fall-off bias" as a possible reason the state's reduced rate isn't playing as well to the home crowd as outsiders might expect it would. Like the decline of Ohio's Congressional delegation and electoral college vote count, Lewis points out the state's population has grown 2.6% so far this century, but the actual percentage of Ohians working has fallen 9.4%. It's a mathematical reality that's not unlike the one currently being debated around the reasons for the decline in the national jobless rate.

In addition, Lewis points to the issue split between north and south, where ''the manufacturing base" wants to see more Federal stimulus and support, while he says Ohio's ''entrepreneurial base" favors less regulation with a ''government off my back'' stance.

Overall he says the predominant issue effecting people's lives and businesses is uncertainty, an issue that has actually been made worse due to the closeness of the race. "It clouds everything," Lewis says.