Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wave as Ryan is announced as his vice presidential running mate aboard the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Cincinnati (written by John Johnston/Cincinnati Enquirer) -- In battleground states across the nation this autumn, the presidential candidates and their running mates are like pumpkins. They're everywhere.
For example, in Ohio, which is considered a key swing state, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have visited 24 times since June 1; Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan have dropped in 39 times.
But do multiple personal appearances by candidates really sway the vote? And why do people flock to those rallies in the first place?
Political pundits say candidates aren't expecting to win over huge numbers of undecided voters at the campaign stops. Rather, they aim to energize supporters and generate buzz. The desired result is a statewide ripple effect: More appearances mean reaching more people who will influence their own family, friends and neighbors.
If candidates visit often enough, tens of thousands of loyal backers will make numerous personal appeals of their own. Add in local news coverage -- it's almost always positive -- and the sum total is more likely to tip the scales in a close election.
"Nobody likes to be ignored, so in a battleground state it's very important for candidates to get their core supporters really cranked up and excited about working hard," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Those core supporters "are the people that knock on doors and man the phone banks and do the real shoe leather work that makes an awful lot of difference in a close race."
They're people like Barbara Myers and Mark Hoffman. She's a 66-year-old Democrat. He's a 49-year-old Republican.
After soaking in the hoopla surrounding Obama's July 16 visit to the Cincinnati area, Myers left the event feeling "like I'm going to knock on every door I can find. It's sort of a high on politics. You're very excited and motivated and just want to get out there and tell everybody to go and vote."
Hoffman said seeing and hearing Ryan in person on Sept. 25 in Carthage solidified his support for the GOP ticket. He described that event as low-key, but he said Romney's Lebanon rally "was real high-energy. The crowd was very enthused. That pumps you up to get out and spread the word."
Campaigns hope to bring on the buzz
Yepsen said a candidate's visit does more than pump up those at a rally. "It also creates a buzz," he said. And "that buzz is important."
The buzz begins at the rally, which as Yepsen noted is "a show in and of itself," with media personalities, politicians and Secret Service agents running around.
Afterward, "people talk about that with their friends. They tell their neighbors who didn't go, and relatives." Which segues into conversations about the candidates.
"There's nothing more powerful than somebody who is important to you -- a spouse, a neighbor, a relative -- saying 'I kind of like Obama' or 'I kind of like Romney,' " Yepsen said.
"That gets overlooked in politics. But in a close race, it is possible for a candidate who spends a lot of time -- even in a big state like Ohio -- to reach enough people that most Ohioans will only be one or two people removed from somebody who was at one of those rallies."
Hoffman, the Republican, has been buzzing, big time. "I've been talking to everybody I can," he said. Family and friends, he said, "like to know what each other is doing. Especially people on the fence. They definitely want to know what other people are doing and why."
Getting a message through the media
Personal appearances by candidates also generate another kind of buzz. It's derived from the news media, and it's free.
A candidate "gets face time on the news broadcasts, and he gets written up in the newspaper," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Whatever sound bite is produced out of the visit will be repeated on television."
And generally speaking, "I think the stories are more positive than negative," Kondik said.
Sasha Issenberg makes that point in his new book, "The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns." It tells of four political scientists who were brought into Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2006 re-election campaign. A dozen of Perry's personal appearances were dictated by an experiment designed by the academics.
Issenberg notes that Perry's physical presence "had a remarkable ability to drive (media) coverage" and that "local coverage of his trips was almost exclusively positive." In eight control markets that Perry didn't visit, "the governor was barely covered in the media during the same period."
Kondik said news stories typically include statements from the opposing campaign, but they're usually overshadowed by the coverage of the candidate in town.
As the election nears, though, we can expect to see fewer large-scale rallies, Yepsen said. Those events pull campaign volunteers away from their duties and "can actually become a little bit of a distraction real late in a campaign."
It's more likely, then, that candidates will appear at local campaign headquarters or at phone banks in order to maximize their volunteers' time.
They'll keep coming back to the Buckeye State, though. To do otherwise could be disastrous.
"The national pundits will go, 'Does this mean he's writing off Ohio?'" Yepsen said. "That has a very dispiriting effect on the party, and it affects local races."