Once, Ohio's three biggest cities were considered this way: Cleveland solidly Democratic, Cincinnati Republican, and Columbus a swing area. But Obama has now carried the Cincinnati and Columbus areas twice, racking up 60 percent in Columbus-based Franklin County, besides easily carrying Cleveland. Obama in 2008 became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Hamilton County (Cincinnati area) since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
Appalachian Ohio had been a swing region, with Bill Clinton carrying it twice. Romney expanded on McCain's success there, winning three eastern Ohio counties — Belmont, Jefferson and Monroe — that last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1972 with Richard Nixon.
In rural counties where voters often put faith concerns first, Romney won about 60 percent of the vote. Exit polls indicated Romney was more popular than Obama among voters looking for a president who shared their values.
But Obama did much better with voters who felt he cared about their everyday concerns.
"I guess in a way we see ourselves in him," said Dominique Crittenden, 25, a nurse's assistant in Cincinnati. "I felt like when he spoke, he spoke to me. I didn't feel that Romney spoke to me."
There appears to be a widening generation gap among Ohio voters.
For two consecutive elections, young voters have turned out in bigger numbers than they had in the past. And they again decisively backed Obama by a 2-to-1 margin. But the same held true for seniors who voted Republican again, while middle age voters and those nearing retirement age edged over to Romney after leaning Obama in 2008.
That could give Republicans opportunities, because Ohio's population is growing older, as Baby Boomers reach or near retirement. Ohio's 65-and-older population increased by nearly 8 percent in the decade ending in 2010, comprising 14.3 percent of the state's population.
Bennett said he is optimistic that the GOP can also do better in urban communities with effective handling of the economy, given that they are the hardest hit by joblessness and poverty. Republican Gov. John Kasich's approval ratings have gone up as the state's employment picture has improved.
One Ohio trend that hasn't changed: the state has now voted for the winning presidential candidate in the last 13 elections. And no Republican has won without Ohio.
Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers in Cincinnati and Julie Carr Smyth and Ann Sanner in Columbus contributed.
Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell