COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Mitt Romney won most of Ohio geographically, while President Barack Obama won where the most votes were to win the pivotal battleground state again.
The Democrat racked up votes in Ohio's major urban/industrial areas, and Republican Mitt Romney carried nearly everywhere else. Obama was able to take the 18 electoral votes he and Romney fought so hard for by winning its most populated areas.
He carried the six biggest counties in terms of votes, and eight of the top 10. He won two-thirds of the vote in the biggest cities, according to exit poll results for The Associated Press and the television networks.
That was enough to offset strong showings by Romney in GOP-dominated suburbs and rural areas. Romney won about five of every six counties statewide.
With all precincts reporting unofficial returns, Obama won by more than 107,000 votes, or nearly 50.2 percent, of 5.4 million votes cast, according to Ohio Secretary of State tallies.That was down from 2008, when he carried Ohio over John McCain with 51.5 percent of the vote, more than 262,000 votes ahead of the Republican.
Obama's support of federal help for an auto industry bailout was a game-changer, said the GOP state chairman, Bob Bennett.
"The biggest determining factor was that we couldn't handle the automobile bailout issue," Bennett said Wednesday. "That's where we significantly underperformed."
Voter samples indicated wide support for the Obama-backed auto bailout, helping an industry with plants and thousands of jobs in the state. The Romney campaign had made a late effort in Ohio to undercut Obama's support on that issue, with Romney emphasizing his long ties to the auto industry in Michigan and pro-Romney ads belittling the president's efforts as helpful to China.
Union voters who normally make up a bigger chunk of the presidential electorate in Ohio than in other swing states favored Obama 60 percent to 38 percent, indicating not only support for the auto industry bailout but lingering fallout from the 2011 move by Republicans to restrict collective bargaining for public employee unions. Also, Ohioans whose families make less than $50,000 a year supported the president by a 3-to-5 margin, exit polls showed.
Bob Rockenfield, 70, of Cincinnati, voted for Romney, but said Wednesday he felt Republicans are "just not getting across to people."
He thinks Obama won Ohio because of his appeal to union workers and minorities, "and also playing up that Romney was this country club rich boy and he was for the middle class."
Frank Hocker, 67, a retiree who once worked at a truck manufacturing plant in Springfield, said he wasn't a single-issue voter, but Obama won his praise for helping the auto industry.
"When Obama stuck his neck out and did the right thing with General Motors, you know, that satisfied me," Hocker said.
Some conventional thinking may be changed by the two most recent presidential elections.
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