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The Rust Belt is Dead. Long Live the Rust Belt! The Rust Belt is Dead. Long Live the Rust Belt!

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The Rust Belt is Dead. Long Live the Rust Belt!

The road to the White House has long run through Midwestern and Northeastern states paved with "iron, coke, chromium steel," as Billy Joel sang when he memorialized Allentown, Pa., in his 1982 hit song of that name. Since 1960, no candidate has won a presidential election without capturing the Rust Belt's buckeyed heart in Ohio. Just ask George W. Bush, who would have been relegated to one term if not for the voters in Ohio's small towns and rural areas who lifted him to victory in 2004.

But as the factories throughout the industrial heartland shut down, pushing the population south and west, the region's loss in political clout was the Sun Belt's gain. No longer was the older, predominantly white Rust Belt the only ticket to victory. In 2008, the younger, more diverse, and growing population of the Sun Belt helped Barack Obama pick up Republican-leaning Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado on the way to victory.

Yet if the Rust Belt has lost relative clout, it is still a mighty force in electoral politics. Ohio, the quintessential bellwether, has seen $21 million in ad spending so far, and both candidates are hovering all over the creaky region these days. Obama's campaign launched a "Michigan Road to Recovery" blitz this week to highlight his support for the auto industry, and the president gave what was billed as a major economic speech in Cleveland on Thursday. Romney was also in Ohio that day, to be followed by stops in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. "There is no state that is more important than Ohio," Russ Schriefer, a senior adviser to Romney, said this week on a conference call.

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