But the problem is, unlike Bush, Romney does not hide his intelligence, and unlike Kasich, Romney is not a native son. His demeanor screams East Coast, and his background screams Harvard Business School. His time at Bain Capital boils down to one case study after another of failed industries collapsing when Romney exposed them to the harsh light of the market and the cold gaze of mathematically inclined investors. Ohio’s likely voters, by contrast, are a churning cauldron of people whose industries are obsolete (hence their affection for the auto bailout), whose jobs require little more than a strong pair of arms (hence the unions’ outsized power), and who look at the mathematical giants of finance and the market and see the nerds they used to beat up in high school just itching to have their lunch money taken by gangster government because they don’t do “real work.” This is not simply my impression of Ohio, either. The career of Senator Sherrod Brown would be impossible were it not buoyed by these factors.
This means that even in the most pessimistic situation, where Ohio voters are forced to choose between the caricature of Obama and the caricature of Romney, they would still choose Obama. “Hell,” your average unionized auto employee would grunt, “he might hate America, but at least he hates the bastards who think their goddamn equations can take my job. I ain’t voting for some pasty-faced, lily-livered bastard who got out of line and thinks he’s better’n me. They both went to Harvard, but at least Obama is gonna take the money away from the people who don’t work.”
Again, this is not simply my jaundiced take on the state. The focus on Romney’s “47 percent” comments by the Obama campaign, and Bill Clinton’s endless harping on the fact that the 47 percent are people who “work,” are evidence that they get it. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, is talking about the only thing it can talk about, which is the fact that Obama has punished those very workers with regulations and burdens more than he’s gone after the upstart nerds on Wall Street whom they despise.
Maybe that point will work, but I doubt it. As the Survey USA poll shows, Ohioans believe Obama understands the concerns of “average voters” (read: mediocrities) more, and that is something that the Organizing for America juggernaut in Ohio will capitalize on. Moreover, Ohio went for a rich person in 2010, and Kasich’s approval ratings suggest that they feel burned. They won’t be making the same mistake twice. Romney is rich, he made his money doing something that requires working with your brain, rather than your hands, and he’s clearly never worn a blue collar in his life.
If, as Henry Adams said, politics is the systematic organization of our animosities, then Ohio’s animosities align against Romney. Unlike the coal workers of Pennsylvania, who have coexisted easily with their wealthy, suburban, Ivy-educated neighbors in Philadelphia since the founding of the University of Pennsylvania, Ohio’s workers are an embittered, undifferentiated mass who have witnessed a brain drain to the point where virtually no one manages to outrun the curve. Unlike the voters in Wisconsin, who have recognized the limits of progressivism and given people like Romney the chance to turn their state around, Ohioans still long for a day when unions can beat up bosses and take their money to distribute to the masses. Unlike the voters in New Hampshire, who are overrepresented by affluent suburbanites interested in looking out for themselves and would like to live free or die, Ohioans are happy to let them take the latter option so long as they get the money that group’s freedom produced. The ghost of Eugene Debs floats, cackling, over the state, and Mitt Romney lacks the electoral proton pack necessary to dispel him.
The Buckeye State has become the Green-Eyed State, and in the battle of envy versus hope, envy is a 75% favorite. Nate Silver can take that one to the bank.
Thomas William Andrews is the nom de plume of a conservative writer living in Washington, D.C.