COLUMBUS — Despite reports that 2016 had sunk it as a swing state, Ohio still appears poised to play a pivotal role in Tuesday’s presidential election.
The closely divided state might deliver its 18 electoral votes to another winner, proving its voters still serve as a barometer of the national political mood.
Or Ohio’s vote will go against the grain in historic fashion.
If Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins the White House without Ohio, she’ll be the first Democrat to do so since John F. Kennedy in 1960. If Republican rival Donald Trump loses Ohio but wins nationally, it will be a first for any Republican.
Ohioans also will decide an unusually nasty and expensive U.S. Senate contest and pick winners in congressional, state legislative and Ohio Supreme Court races.
Here’s are some things to know about top races and election security headed into Tuesday’s voting:
Both Clinton and Trump appeared at points during the race to have given up on Ohio.
Then October happened.
Both camps experienced surprise revelations: a video of Trump making lewd, sexually charged remarks about women, then word the FBI was revisiting its email investigation of Clinton. Ohio and other swing states were suddenly back in play.
Clinton, Trump and their surrogates made dozens of visits to the state, including candidate appearances Friday and a Cleveland rally by Clinton again Sunday.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday showed Trump leading Clinton in Ohio, 46 percent to 41 percent — with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Early Ohio voting before the FBI revelation was trending overwhelmingly toward Clinton.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and his Democratic challenger, Ted Strickland, haven’t let up on their campaigning as Election Day approaches. It’s just that few are watching.
Strickland, a once-popular former governor, initially was viewed as one of Democrats’ best candidates to snag a Republican Senate seat this year. Outside groups, including those tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, responded by spending millions on anti-Strickland ads focused on Ohio’s economy during his governorship, which coincided with the national recession.
Combined with Portman’s superior fundraising and campaign operation, Strickland is now viewed as a long shot. National Democrats pulled money out of his race as Portman landed a series of endorsements from groups once in Strickland’s corner, including the National Rifle Association and several labor unions.
Incumbents are also favored in Ohio’s 16 congressional races, and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor is running unopposed for her seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. Two additional high court seats are being vacated because of retirements and are more competitive.
In the state Legislature, Democrats are hoping to pick off some seats from Republicans, who hold strong majorities in both chambers.
ON THE SECURITY HOT SEAT
Trump has repeatedly warned without evidence that the election could be “rigged.” But voter advocates in Ohio and the state’s Republican elections chief have pushed back against that suggestion and sought to ease any concerns about the security of the state’s election.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio and others have an election protection hotline — 866-OUR-VOTE —if people encounter problems at the polls or have questions. The line is staffed by trained volunteers and co-sponsored by a national lawyers’ group.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman says he’s designated three officers in Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton to oversee the southern district’s handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in consultation with Justice Department in Washington.
The major political parties also will be watching for any elections issues.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper has said the party will have official election observers inside at least 1,500 polling locations, along with a help center and a team of lawyers on standby. The state Republican Party plans a similar number of official observers and its own Election Day center with a team of attorneys in Columbus.