Ohio, That Special Place

Did you know today is Election Day?
Of course you did.  After untold millions were spent on campaign ads that ran incessantly on television, and candidates Obama and Romney criss-crossed the nation in search of votes, the American public is about to get some relief.  And elect a president.
If you’ve been following this election at all, then you know that the one state that is central to the hopes of either candidate is the one that’s round on the ends and “hi” in the middle – Ohio (in Michigan, though, it’s known as Worst. State. Ever.)  President Obama and Governor Romney have spent more time in Ohio than any other state this election cycle, bringing home their respective messages.  But what exactly makes Ohio so special?
In my mind, Ohio is special because it is the one state in the nation where northern, midland and southern cultural influences coexist in total equilibrium.
Ohio occupies a unique position in American geography.  I first brought this up in my post about the Five Midwests some eight months ago, when I presented an idea to view the Midwest from a different perspective.  Although most associate the state with being entirely Midwestern, that is a little bit of a misnomer.  It has been subject to cultural influences from the South since its settlement.  Basically, I’ve argued that southern and southeastern Ohio have long been dominated by Appalachian influences from West Virginia and Kentucky, northern Ohio along the Lake Erie coast has long been dominated by Yankee influences from New England and Upstate New York, and central Ohio has been dominated by, well, a mix of both.  As you can see in the post I linked to above, I identify northern Ohio as being part of the Lower Great Lakes area that was settled by Yankees, central Ohio as the Heartland area that was settled by Pennsylvanian and Marylander farmers, and southern Ohio as the Midland Valley area settled by Appalachians from West Virginia and Kentucky.
The South – and by that I mean Southern cultural values and mores – doesn’t start at the Mason-Dixon Line or the Ohio River.  Southern cultural values are evident well north of the Ohio River.  To me, it starts at what I would call the I-70 Line, following the interstate.  North of I-70 accents are distinctly flat Midwestern; south of it one begins to notice more of a southern inflection.  Cities north of I-70 may have more Catholics; south of I-70 more Baptists and Methodists.  This is evident not just in Ohio, but in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri as well.
Ohio’s cultural equilibrium is further supported by the location of its three largest metro areas.  Each cultural area of Ohio has a metro area to call its own – Cleveland (Great Lakes), Columbus (Heartland) and Cincinnati (Midland Valley).  And, in part due to the growth of Columbus over the last 30+ years, and the decline of Cleveland and Cincinnati over the same period, all are roughly equal in size and exert the same influence on state elections.
So as we stay up late tonight wondering which way Ohio will flip during tonight’s election coverage, think of the cultural influences that make the state what it is today.

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