COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Barack Obama claimed a win in Ohio's presidential election Tuesday, while other candidates' hopes were left with voters who feared the economy and worried about their family's finances.
Ohioans lined up early Tuesday to cast ballots in a state that has suffered from housing foreclosures and soaring unemployment since it carried President Bush to a second term four years ago.
The election ended hard-fought campaigns set to realign the U.S. Congress and the Ohio Legislature. Voters also picked Democrat Richard Cordray to replace a scandal-riddled attorney general.
Elsewhere on the ballot, voters rejected casino gambling and kept a law capping interest rates on payday loans. Republicans kept all seven seats on the state Supreme Court, as two Cleveland-area challengers proved unsuccessful. Most eyes focused on the high-profile presidential contest between Republican John McCain and Obama, who spent $2.7 million during the campaign's final week on television ads.
Early returns favored Obama, who found an advantage in counties that four years early supported President Bush's re-election. With almost a million votes counted, Obama led 60 percent to McCain's 39 percent. Karen Hankerson, who has spent eight months searching for employment after losing her job as a clerical worker in Cincinnati, said she voted for Obama.
"I think he's the right person for the job. It's not just because he's black. I think he's fiercely intelligent and personable and very grounded," Hankerson, 43, said.
Exit polls for The Associated Press and television networks found that six out of 10 Ohio voters said the economy is the most important issue now facing the country. Overall, about nine out of 10 Ohio voters say they're worried about the direction of the economy in the next year. Almost everyone voting Tuesday says the nation's economy is in bad shape.
Scattered voting problems were reported around the state - some people had to wait in line for an hour, a few voting machines malfunctioned and poll workers in some precincts feared running out of paper ballots - but it was an otherwise smooth Election Day, officials said. One voter was arrested at a suburban Cleveland polling location. Richard Jones - president of the Cleveland chapter of the National Action Network, the Rev. Al Sharpton's civil-rights organization - said the machine that scanned his ballot at Solon High School began beeping and workers were forced to turn it off.
Jones said he returned later because he was concerned that his vote wouldn't be counted and got into an argument with an elections worker. Solon police Lt. Jim Abramowski confirmed that an arrest was made at the school on charges of resisting arrest, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. Abramowski wouldn't identify the person who was arrested nor the circumstances.
Andrew Greenaway, 18, a Cleveland State University student, cast his first-ever vote for Obama in a meeting room of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral near his campus dormitory.
"All my buddies told me to vote for Obama," said Greenaway, who didn't keep up with the campaign but called Obama "the buzz" on campus.
Polls ahead of Election Day showed Obama slightly ahead, but in a campaign that has been remarkably unpredictable, Obama and McCain aides alike were bracing for a long night. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. Only two Democrats have done so. The state has voted for the winning candidate in every election since 1964. Bob Mihocik, 59, an ex-Navy pilot who cast his ballot in Westlake in suburban Cleveland, voted for McCain as did his wife, Jackie, who said she felt McCain was better equipped to keep the nation safe and lower taxes.
Election officials early in the day predicted an 80 percent turnout, yet the state's top elections official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said indications from the state's more populous counties, such as Cuyahoga and Lucas, showed Ohio could fall short. Issue 6 would have given the state its first Las Vegas-style casino near the southwest Ohio town of Wilmington. Ohio voters have rejected statewide gambling three times before since 1990. The payday lending law cuts the annual percentage rate that lenders can charge to 28 percent and limit the number of loans customers can take to four per year.
Cordray, the state treasurer, raised more than $2.5 million to compete against Republican Mike Crites, a former U.S. attorney for southern Ohio. Former Democratic Attorney General Marc Dann resigned in May amid a sexual harassment scandal that involved his top aides and female subordinates. With momentum on Democrats' side, the Ohio GOP honed its efforts to defend existing offices and capture a few other targeted seats. They acknowledge they faced long odds. Republicans hold an 11-7 majority in the Ohio congressional delegation, but saw three of their veteran lawmakers - U.S. Reps. Deborah Pryce, Ralph Regula and David Hobson - bow out of their re-election efforts.
Democrats believe the first two seats are their best shots for party turnover. Democrats, likewise, eyed two seats on the Supreme Court. A pair of northeast Ohio judges - Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Russo and Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Peter Sikora - tried to break the all-GOP hold of the court and failed. Justice Maureen O'Connor, a former lieutenant governor to Bob Taft, and Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, who sought her third, six-year term both were successful. In the Statehouse, Democrats were aiming at capturing the Ohio House for the first time since 1994. To do so, Democrats would have to win four GOP-controlled seats in the 99-seat chamber. The breakdown as of Tuesday morning was 53-46.