Ohio Republicans Mourn Romney’s Loss, Explain Why It Happened

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Photo: Kevin Roose

The party never really got going at the Renaissance Hotel in Columbus, where optimistic Ohio Republicans hoped to celebrate Mitt Romney's rousing, unskewed victory in their state and everywhere else.

Maybe the cash bar hindered the party spirit. Or the fact that the closest thing to entertainment was a guy hawking copies of "The Mitt and the Cat," his self-published campaign parody book. Most likely it was the news being piped in over big-screen TVs turned to Fox News. The updates were bad from the beginning — an early call for Sherrod Brown, who was reelected to the Senate over adolescent-looking challenger Josh Mandel — and got much, much worse as the night wore on.

"Come on, Ohio, we need a little more energy than that!" one emcee pleaded.

By 8:30, positive energy of any kind was hard to find. As Romney's electoral path to the White House quickly began to narrow, Republicans in the room began tossing out theories that could explain a GOP loss in the state. Some said the "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed had hurt Romney irredeemably with auto workers in the state. Others blamed Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock for scaring female Independents away from the ticket. In the center of the ballroom, a group of high school students bowed their heads in prayer.

At 9:45, after Elizabeth Warren's Massachusetts Senate win had been called, the emcee tried again: "There is nothing quite like the taste of victory, is there?" he asked, calling a local winning candidate for some state office or other to the dais. One, maybe two supporters clapped. Try as he might have, there was no joy in Romney's Ohio, the state he most needed to win.

By the time the presidential race was officially called around 11:15, the Ohio GOP had discovered the bar in the corner.

"Rob Portman is not going to let us lose Ohio," one woman slurred defiantly, either not knowing or not caring that Barack Obama's reelection had already been projected by the networks. "He's been working his butt off down there in Cincinatti."

Many had accusatory fingers at the ready. But Dave Dziak, a Romney supporter from Cleveland, simply watched the live TV feed of Obama supporters celebrating in Chicago, and squinted.

"I'm not sure it's over yet," he said. "It's hard for me to imagine such a scenario. I don't see how all of Ohio is ..."

He trailed off, then recovered: "I don't think Mitt talked about Bain enough."

Romney's failure to hit Obama sufficiently hard over the federal deficit was a common explanation; so was Obama's rescue of the auto industry, which most in the room agreed had tipped Ohio in his favor.

The ballroom was empty by midnight, leaving a small core of stalwarts commiserating over drinks in the lobby. Robert Sinners, a young Republican in a Burberry coat, attributed Romney's loss to not having made inroads with young voters.

"Obama tapped into the youth vote, with his musical tastes and his messaging and all of that."

Near the elevators, a middle-aged brunette named Ruth (she declined to give her last name) struggled to explain why, after a huge, well-funded campaign in the state, Romney hadn't been able to turn the Buckeye State red. Holding an empty gin and tonic, she ran through a list of things Romney could have done, should have done, to shore up support in Ohio.

"His campaign was very insular," she said. "He didn't reach out to women, didn't reach out to evangelicals."

She stared down at the shriveled lime in her glass, and said, with a shrug: "Look, he screwed up."