During election night coverage of the Super Tuesday contests on March 6, 2012, NBC’s Brian Williams interviewed David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. In that interview, Axelrod tried to shift the focus from that night’s GOP primary fight in Ohio -- in which Mitt Romney edged out Rick Santorum statewide -- to the president’s reelection bid.
"Tonight in Ohio, more people came out to vote for Barack Obama in an unopposed race than voted for Romney and Santorum combined," Axelrod told Williams.
A reader asked us to check this claim, so we did.
We looked at the Ohio Secretary of State’s election results page and found the following statewide totals as of the morning after the primary, at which point 100 percent of precincts had been counted. Here are the totals:
Obama: 547,588 votes (100 percent of the Democratic primary vote)
Romney: 456,205 votes (37.95 percent of the Republican primary vote)
Santorum: 445,697 votes (37.07 percent of the Republican primary vote)
Total of Romney and Santorum: 901,902 votes
Clearly, Obama didn’t outpoll the combination of Romney and Santorum. He did outpoll them each individually, so Axelrod would have been correct if he’d said that Obama won more votes than "either Romney or Santorum."
We do have an educated guess about where Axelrod may have gotten the idea, though.
At 8:17 p.m., BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, a prominent national political journalist, tweeted, "Huh: So far more votes for Obama in OH tonight than for all Republicans (who have actual campaigns) combined."
However, 14 minutes later, Smith walked back that comment: "Ah: The early pile of votes for Obama seems to be because Cuyahoga among the first reporting."
Smith was referring to Cuyahoga County, which is home to Cleveland. Not only is Cuyahoga County a populous jurisdiction that votes heavily Democratic, but voters in a portion of it were especially likely to vote that day because of another race on the ballot -- the hotly contested face-off, forced by redistricting, between incumbent Democratic House members Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich.
All told, 39 percent of the new congressional district is in Cuyahoga. Having a large number of ballots counted early in the evening from Cuyahoga would boost Obama's turnout numbers compared to the Republican candidates.
Axelrod’s interview was at 10:30 p.m., which was well after Smith’s correction tweet.
Axelrod’s claim turned out to be off by a wide margin by the time all votes were counted and was almost certainly wrong at the time he said it. We rate the claim False.
UPDATE: Shortly after we posted the item, Axelrod tweeted to take responsibility for his error: "Guilty as charged! I misspoke during an interview last night and PolitiFact rightly called me on it.."