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Inside Politics

Nation's split is part of Ohio's fabric



Editor's Note: As Ohio became the focal point of the 2004 presidential election, four CNN.com staffers who have personal ties to the state shared their thoughts on the character of that state and its place in the crux of a divided America.

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Jacobs Field in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, is home to the Cleveland Indans.
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Edwards vows to 'fight for every vote'

CNN's Bill Schneider says three major issues were key for voters at the polls today.

Early reports show a record turnout at the polls today in Cleveland, Ohio.
PROVISIONAL BALLOTS
  • Provisional ballots are punch cards given to voters in Ohio who show up at the correct polling place and are not listed on the voters' list because they have moved or due to clerical errors.
  • The votes are set aside in sealed envelopes and are counted, under Ohio law, no earlier than 11 days after the election, along with absentee ballots.
  • More than 109,000 provisional ballots were counted in 2000, about 90 percent of the total cast. The other ballots were ruled invalid.
  • Two weeks ago, a federal court in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that provisional ballots must be submitted at the proper polling place.
    Sources: Ohio Secretary of State, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
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    America Votes 2004
    Ohio

    (CNN) -- As the ballot counting in the presidential election stretched into Wednesday morning, it became clear that Ohio could become the Florida of 2004.

    The campaign of Sen. John Kerry early Wednesday refused to concede defeat in the state, with Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill saying, "The vote count in Ohio has not been completed. There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio."

    Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said that by law, provisional and absentee ballots won't be counted until 11 days after the election. He said he could not immediately put an estimate on the number of those ballots, but he said 250,000 might not be out of the realm of possibility.

    With 98 percent of Ohio precincts reporting, President Bush was leading Kerry 51 percent to 49 percent in the state.

    What part of the state those absentee ballots are from may make a big difference in how the presidential race is decided.

    "This is one state, but it is really two or three states," said Stu Rothenberg, a CNN political analyst.

    And Ohio certainly is a divided state. Some would even say that the people in the Cleveland area -- in the northeastern part of the state -- have never had a particularly high opinion of their downstate brethren in Cincinnati; and the feeling is mutual.

    They are divided by, among other things, even their taste for chili.

    Cincinnati sports its own chili, a watery concoction spiked with cinnamon that's served over spaghetti. You won't find the stuff much north of Dayton, but if you are a college student from Cincinnati going to school in Bowling Green University in west-central Ohio, it's worth driving back home on the weekend just to get a fix.

    There are, however, shared traditions across Ohio.

    Common heroes include former senator and astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

    And wherever one goes in the state, high school is a big thing. People remember their school, they flood their reunions no matter how far away they may have flown after graduation, and friendships last a lifetime. Those friendships are forged at Friday night football games, Sunday afternoon barbecues and neighborhood bars that still have electronic bowling games in the corner and pickled eggs at the bar.

    Regional differences

    But Ohio is a state defined by its regional differences: Cleveland, the Rust Belt metropolis that transformed itself around tourism and sports success; affluent Columbus, which revolves around Ohio State University but has added white-collar jobs in insurance and banking; Dayton, once the cradle of engineering in the United States, now struggling with a decaying downtown and a loss of jobs at its major employers; and Cincinnati, divided between a poor urban core and a ring of conservative, middle-class suburbs.

    National joke Cleveland, for many years, was the nation's laughingstock, suffering from images like the polluted and flaming Cuyahoga River of the 1970s (about the same time Mayor Ralph Perk set his hair on fire opening a welders' convention) to a municipal bankruptcy to the image of 5,000 souls dotting the 80,000-seat Municipal Stadium to watch the then-pathetic Cleveland Indians.

    And this part of the state -- Northeastern Ohio -- was often a progressive bastion in those times. Cleveland elected the nation's first black mayor, Carl Stokes, the Indians had major league baseball's first black manager, Frank Robinson, and Clevelanders have long been proud of their culture -- their orchestra and their museums, they noted, are world class.

    And the area is not as boring as its PR. After all, Cedar Point, with some of the world's largest and faster roller coasters, was just an hour's drive away in Sandusky; Ohioans can take their boats out on Lake Erie; and when the lake-effect snow dumps feet of white stuff in the winter there's plenty of skiing and tobogganing to keep folks entertained.

    Cleveland native Drew Carey and his crew from the popular TV show could be any number of neighborhood clans in northern Ohio. In this part of the state, life is really like that. The ability to laugh at itself is a survival skill one is born with in Cleveland, as well as a love for music.

    Rock 'n' roll always played a big role in the Cleveland and in the 1970s and '80s WMMS-FM, nicknamed "The Buzzard" after the flocks of the birds that arrive in suburban Hinckley each year, was named by Rolling Stone readers as the nation's premiere radio station. And its listeners loved The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, whose "Born to Run" was played every Friday night to kick off the party weekend.

    It should be no surprise then that the city's revitalization came largely around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was built on the Lake Erie waterfront in the 1990s. But as the city's steel and auto industries waned and union jobs were lost, the suburban families became more conservative.

    Sunday morning church is important in the suburbs, and the congregations, along with the state, become more conservative the farther south one travels from Cleveland.

    Family divisions

    TV captured another part of the split personality of Ohio during the Reagan years in the sitcom "Family Ties." The Keaton family lived in Columbus, smack dab in the middle of the state. And, of course, in the sitcom, a young Michael J. Fox played the conservative, blue-blazer-wearing son of a liberal father in a house divided against itself.

    Columbus' economy is fueled by the mammoth campus of the Ohio State University. The university and its services provide good-paying jobs, and the wealth is evident when one sees the housing sprawling past the concrete ring Interstate 270 puts around the city. The money balances out the liberal leanings of a university town.

    To the southwest is Dayton, the city that gave the state the motto on its license plates -- "Birthplace of Aviation" -- but fell on hard times as its manufacturing industries declined in the 1980s.

    The Wright Brothers built the Wright Flyer at their bicycle shop in the southern city, and the city now hosts the Air Force Museum, with arguably the most impressive display of aircraft in the world. But manufacturers like National Cash Register, now NCR, and Huffy bicycles moved out, taking blue-collar jobs with them.

    Still, Dayton hangs on to a spot in bedrock middle America. The city and its suburbs, including Kettering and Centerville, make up a small metropolitan area that looks like a Norman Rockwell picture. The houses for the most part are comfortable and on the small side, mainly built in the early half of the century. The people who live there are "meat and potato" people. They are farmers, factory workers, Air Force personnel and employees of longtime Ohio companies, including NCR, General Motors and Mead paper.

    Oakwood is the jewel of Dayton's suburbs. It's a city of stately old homes not a five-minute drive from downtown with a high school that looks like Hollywood's idea of what a heartland school should be.

    Daytonians can be suspicious of outsiders, but they still show up with an apple pie when someone new moves onto the block. It's not surprising to find homeschoolers who wouldn't dare trust their kids to the local schools, even though in the suburbs they are often good academically.

    Split among neighborhoods

    In the southwest corner of the state is Cincinnati, perhaps Ohio's most polarized city. The racial tensions of the late 1990s and early 2000s there are indicative of this. People speak of what neighborhoods to avoid and many stay in the neighborhoods their parents grew up in.

    Metropolitan Cincinnati is often called the Tristate. It straddles the Ohio River and extends south into Kentucky (home to its international airport) and west into Indiana, where riverboat gambling that Ohio voters rejected has awakened dying communities like Lawrenceburg and Rising Sun. Some might say that parts of Cincinnati -- where many tune in to conservative talk radio host Bill Cunningham -- have more in common with their conservative-leaning southern neighbors that their counterparts in Cleveland and to the north.

    Still, they are proud of their baseball Reds, they lament their football Bengals, and they'll even admit Jerry Springer is one of their own.

    Drive west from downtown Cincinnati along the Ohio to the town of North Bend and you'll find the tomb of the U.S. president who spent the shortest time in office. William Henry Harrison lived only a month past his inauguration.

    And as this year's election dragged on, it is interesting to note that Ohio touts itself as the cradle of presidents. William Henry Harrison, James Garfield, Ulysses Grant, William McKinley, Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Benjamin Harrison and Rutherford B. Hayes have Ohio roots.

    Now it seems, George Bush or John Kerry will be thanking Ohio for putting him in the White House.

    CNN.com's Brad Lendon, Jennifer Pangyanszki, Ann Hoevel and Todd Leopold contributed to this report.


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