In every presidential election since 1964, Ohio has voted with the winner and the vote has similarly reflected the national vote percentages as well. For this reason Ohio remains as the most important test-lab state in clues as to how the actual election will turn out. Right now, Barack Obama narrowly trails John McCain in Ohio, so a win by either candidate in this state is highly likely to determine the overall winner of the election.
Despite a formerly strong factory economic base in Ohio where many factory jobs are now challenged, Obama's narrow trailing indicates that he still needs to shore up his support among those blue collar voters and convince voters that John McCain only represents more of the same old George Bush economics.
Friday night's debate will be a critical head-to-head test of both candidates ability to cement themselves in the minds of voters as a credible choice as president. The subject will be foreign policy. Barack Obama needs to appear to voters that he has the judgment, credibility and toughness to deal with any foreign policy challenge, as well as a decent understanding of any international issue. McCain's challenge will likely be not to appear as too quick to use military force around the world as well avoiding erratic answers where voters become wary of his role as Commander-In-Chief will be very important. McCain sometimes gives frightening answers where he seems too likely to use military force against rogue states like Iran.
Later debates dealing with economics may give Obama a grounds where he can make the strongest case for his campaign. But the biggest challenge for Obama is likely to appear to be a credible alternative to McCain on foreign policy issues where McCain might be able to make his strongest case. If either McCain or Obama stumbles in this first debate, and fails to move numbers in their direction, then it may be difficult for the other candidate to reverse that trend. It might also be to Obama's advantage that the economics debate will be coming closer to the election. If Obama is to possibly draw or even lose any debate, the foreign policy one might be the only one he can afford to.
But every debate will be vital to both candidates to make their best case to close the deal with the voters. It will be interesting to see how the poll numbers move after the first debate. If one candidate starts moving numbers in their direction, it may be a good sign that they are indeed closing the deal with voters and are likely to win this election.
After the debate, it will also be interesting to watch the polling numbers coming out of Ohio. Whoever gains traction and carries this state is also likely to win the election as well. I fully expect the state of Ohio to vote with the winner once again and by a margin that closely represents the actual national vote as well.
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