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There's A Reason They Call It A Battleground State

Ohio has been a key swing state in the last three presidential races. As with many elections, there are reports of stolen yard signs and clashes between supporters of the candidates at rallies.

But there's a tone in Ohio this year that seems to go beyond what we've witnessed before, and not just as it concerns the very tight presidential race.

Civility in politics is "at a pretty low ebb," agrees John Green at the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, which has been compiling data on the subject for the Ohio Civility Project.

I've been a reporter in Ohio for 22 years and have specialized in political reporting for the past eight. Ohioans usually are happy to live in a state that plays such a critical role in the selection of a president, and they are no strangers to high-passion, full-throated political campaigns for statewide office.

But I've never seen this state so passionately split, and while it's great to see so many people engaged, it's concerning to see so many who are also very angry. And never have I heard so many people — including political junkies — say they can't wait for the election to be over.

As one of the most crucial presidential swing states, Ohio has played frequent host to President Obama, Vice President Biden, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. And we've seen nonstop national political ads.

But the state also has two of the most expensive races in the country.

The contest between Republican Rep. Jim Renacci and Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton in northeast Ohio is one of two in the nation pitting incumbents against one another. The ads in that race have been described as "brutal."

"If you've watched TV much, you probably think Betty Sutton and I both hate puppies and grandmothers too," Renacci said in a recent ad. "It's ridiculous."

In the Senate race — Ohio's other big-money contest — the rancor between Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel is apparently trickling down to their supporters. The candidates met last week for the first of three debates before the normally staid City Club of Cleveland.

I moderated that debate, the only face-to-face meeting between the candidates before a live audience, in which Mandel said Brown "lied to the people of Ohio" and Brown said Mandel "couldn't be trusted."

The audience of about 1,300 could be politely described as boisterous. Even after they were reminded to keep their audible support to a minimum, audience members applauded loudly after questions, and their jeers and boos nearly interrupted the candidates' answers in the latter part of the debate.

Karen Kasler is chief of the Statehouse News Bureau for Ohio Public Radio and Television

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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