By JANE PRENDERGAST
The race for the White House continues to be too close to call in Ohio, according to a new Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio News Organization Poll that shows President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each with 49 percent support from likely voters.
That's a slip for the president, who took 51 percent of likely voters in the newspaper group's September poll.
Romney's support grew among males, among high school and college graduates and among respondents in every age category except 18 to 29.
MORE POLL DETAILS: Cincinnati Enquirer
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The two candidates also tied in scaring voters -- 29 percent of poll respondents said they'd be scared if Obama won, and the same amount said they'd be scared if Romney won. Half said they were very enthusiastic about voting, 21 percent said they were not so enthusiastic or not enthusiastic at all.
"In the final days before the election, both campaigns will focus on turning out their bases, appealing to independents and attracting the few undecided voters that remain," said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research, which conducted the poll. "Absent any more twists and turns, a remarkable presidential campaign may end with the campaign that executes the best 'ground game' narrowly delivering Ohio for the next president of the United States."
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Just under 1 in 5 voters interviewed indicated they had already voted. While Rademacher urged caution due to high margins of error of plus or minus 7.5 percentage points, Obama appears to be well ahead among voters who've already cast their ballots.
The poll reiterated what other polls have shown, which is that the president and challenger continue to be in an extremely tight race. A Rasmussen poll conducted Oct. 23 showed the two men tied with 48 percent, a Suffolk poll conducted Oct. 18-21 found them tied at 47 percent. A CNN poll released Friday gave Obama a narrow lead, with 50 percent of likely Ohio voters.
Younger voters were more likely to choose Obama. Romney fared better with voters ages 30 to 45 and 65 and older. Ninety-eight percent of the African-Americans polled said they would vote for Obama, while white people went more for Romney by 55 percent to 43 percent.
Kelly Halbert, of Amberley Village, plans to vote for Romney, but will do so with very little enthusiasm.
"I guess it's like, 'Hold your nose and vote (for) the lesser of the two evils,'" said Halbert, 44, who owns and manages rental apartments and describes herself as an independent. She differs from Romney because "I'm very liberal on social issues," she said, citing her support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
The driving issue for her is the economy. And Obama "doesn't have a clue how to run the economy," she said. She appreciates Romney's business experience, saying government should be run like a corporation.
Kevin Hayes is a life-long Democrat who never considered abandoning Obama in favor of Romney.
"I've always voted Democrat because they are for the working class. The Republicans are more for the higher class, the rich," said Hayes, 44, of Steubenville, who is disabled. "I think Romney is arrogant."
He was referring to the Republican's remarks at an event in May about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. The Obama camp has emphasized the comments, using them to try to stress that Romney is out of touch and wouldn't work for almost half of the people in the country.
Obama deserves more time, Hayes said.
"The country was in bad shape when Obama took over and it's not something that can be turned around in four years. It's worth supporting him," he said. "The Democrats always have been right on the issues I support. They are more compassionate and understanding than the Republicans."
The poll also showed:
-- Not surprisingly, Obama found more support in Northeast and Central Ohio, while Romney led in the northwest and southwest parts of the state. Historically, the northern part of the state around Cleveland leans Democratic, while parts of the state's southern half, including Hamilton County, tend to vote more Republican.
-- Presidential debates don't matter much in making up voters' minds. Sixty-two percent said the debates wouldn't have an impact on their decisions. Twenty-three percent said the debates made them more likely to vote for Romney, 14 percent for Obama.
-- Just over half the respondents said Romney's comments about "the 47 percent" didn't affect their voting choice. Thirty-two percent said it made them more likely to vote for Obama, 14 percent for Romney.
-- The two men tied in support from respondents with some college, at 49 percent. College graduates favored Romney 53 percent to 45 percent. Those with less education were more likely to choose Obama.
-- Sixty percent of Romney supporters said they strongly favored him, while 17 percent said they would choose him only because they dislike Obama. Sixty-three percent of the president's supporters said they strongly favored him, with 14 percent saying they only support him because they dislike Romney.
Wesley Allen, a welder from Ripley, can hardly wait to vote for Romney. He and three or four of his coworkers at Ripley Metal Works plan to meet at his house at 6 a.m. on Election Day, then go together to the polls. He voted for Obama four years ago, but calls that a mistake now.
"I fell for the whole 'change' thing," the 41-year-old said. "I got on the 'change' train. But there wasn't any change."
He believes Romney, "with his business sense, be able to get us out of this (economic downturn). Four years with Obama and we haven't succeeded in anything."
Allen wouldn't convince Rosemary Crum, 68. The retired pharmacist from Pickerington, near Columbus, supports the president. She's a Democrat and poll worker, but said she trends toward being an independent and will also vote for Republicans.
"Obama's the lesser of two evils," she said. ".... But there's something about Romney I just can't stand. There's nothing about him that says 'trust me.' His mouth says that, but nothing else. I also don't like Romney's position on women."
About the Ohio Newspaper Poll
The telephone poll which used both land lines and cell phones of 1,015 likely voters across Ohio from Oct. 18 through Oct. 23, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Other sources of error are possible, such as non-response bias. The response rate was 19.47 percent.
The party breakdown of the randomly selected respondents: 47 percent Democrats, 44 percent Republicans, 10 percent independents. The data were weighted to correct for potential sampling bias on gender and region of residence for respondents.
The poll was financed solely by the Ohio Newspaper Organization.
This poll is part of a continuing collaboration among Ohio's eight largest newspapers: The Dayton Daily News, (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Akron Beacon Journal, The (Toledo) Blade, Canton Repository and The (Youngstown) Vindicator. The poll was conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati.