Barack Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to end the Republican stranglehold on the southwestern corner of Ohio in the 2008 election, winning in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and its conservative suburbs.
Mr. Obama flipped counties across the Rust Belt, helping him carry Ohio and Indiana and win more traditionally Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But now, as Mr. Obama is in the middle of a two-day “Betting on America” bus tour across Ohio and Pennsylvania, political analysts said he will have to reassemble the “hope and change” demographic coalition of 2008 that relied on a high turnout of youths and blacks, and winning a larger-than-usual percentage of Hispanics and whites.
By most accounts, that will be easier said than done, especially after the elections in 2010, when voters sent a strong message of discontent to Mr. Obama by electing Republicans in nearly every competitive race in the Rust Belt and pulling the plug on the Democrats’ four-year reign in the House.
In 2008, Mr. Obama lost whites without college education by a margin of 58 percent to 40 percent.
The challenge for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney is to tap into that anger and persuade those voters to turn out again this year, said Ford O’Connell, who ran rural outreach for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
“This is the group that has soured on Obama the most. Therefore,Romney must appeal to white working-class voters and drive up their turnout or else he will lose in 2012,” he said. “If Romney fails to outperform McCain with white working-class voters, his only other path to victory is essentially to hope that Hispanics don’t turn out to support Obama, and frankly that is not a very good game plan.”