At this time of week Pastor Russell Johnson begins sharpening his pencil. He's has got two more sermons to write before the mid-term elections on November 7, and he's got a job on.
Up to 3,200 worshippers will turn up for prayer over next two Sundays at his Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster, Ohio, that looks like the factory. It is, a factory of Christian conservatism. In addition to the congregation it has a mailing list of 560,000 homes, giving it a substantial outreach in a state famous for neck-and-neck election results.
Pastor Johnson says his message will be that they must turn out to vote. He insists he doesn't tell them who to vote for, though you don't have to be a politics professor to know he backs the Republican senate candidate, Mike DeWine. "If there are al-Qaida sleeper cells here in Ohio I can tell you they are not voting for Mike DeWine," is how he puts it.
This election year Pastor Johnson's evangelical vision is under threat. Senator DeWine is behind in the polls - one of six seats the Democrats need to wrestle back control of the US Senate. The Democrats are hoping to take up to five more Congressional seats - a third of those they need to take back the House of Representatives, as well as the post of governor which has been in Republican hands for 16 years.
Pastor Johnson knows who to blame for all this: the liberal media and its bleak message on the war in Iraq. He reckons Senator DeWine has had to spend up to $12m (£6.4m) in advertising to counter biased reporting in Ohio alone. "If moderate Republicans allow the negative press to discourage them and stay at home, they will live to regret it."
His language may be robust, but his assessment is accurate: the November 7 mid-term elections will test the ability of the Bush administration to drive its supporters to the polls amid the energy-sapping news emerging daily from the Middle East. The challenge is plain in Ohio, the ultimate swing state which George Bush took in 2004 to secure his second term by just 118,601 votes.
"Ohio is as close to being down-the-middle mythic America as you can get," explains Time magazine's political columnist Joe Klein. "When you see the Republicans screwing up in a place like Ohio you think that their hold on power is finally starting to slip."
The Democratic Senate candidate, Sherrod Brown, is on the left of the party and has campaigned openly against the war. In any other year, Joe Klein says, "he wouldn't have a shot", but with less than two weeks to go to polling day he is ahead of DeWine in local polls by 52% to 47%.
Bill Clinton came to the state capital, Columbus, on Monday night to drive home the advantage, speaking alongside Brown to a crowd of 600 in a hotel. The Bush administration "never did that mission right" in Afghanistan and it had been blinkered about its mistakes in Iraq, Mr Clinton said. "If all you care about is concentrating wealth and power, and you're an ideologue so you already have all the answers, and you can't be bothered with inquiry and evidence, you're going to get bad decisions."
As the Democrat Tip O'Neill famously said, all politics is local, and local issues such as Ohio's struggling rust-belt economy and financial scandals are also playing hard. But David King, a lecturer in politics at Harvard, has detected a sea-change this year. The Iraq war has for the first time become one of O'Neill's local issues. "Kids who signed up for weekend war games in the Reserves are now living and dying in Iraq. It's brought Baghdad right into the neighbourhoods of America."
So it is that six members of the Fairfield Christian Church are now stationed in Iraq. Even Pastor Johnson's son is in military training in Washington in preparation for duty.
In Clintonville (no relation), a tree-lined neighbourhood in the north of Columbus, almost every household has an Iraq story. John Raphael owns a restaurant in town, and the chef there has just returned from two years in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Cleveland-based Lima Company. "Ten years ago rock red Republicans lived in this neighbourhood. But now they have had kids who are going off to fight the war and they are asking themselves what is this all for."
The incumbent Congresswoman for this area, Deborah Pryce, is ranked number four in the national Republican party but she is close to being slung out by an openly anti-war Democrat, Mary Joe Kilroy.
It is a race that is dividing one side of the street in Clintonville from the other, one parent from another. Kim Balzano has a banner on her lawn reading "Support our troops". Her son is in his last year of high school and has just enlisted for the Lima Company. Two of his best friends left last week for the marines.
"I tell my son he must have a death wish. I have been keeping him for 18 years with no lacerations and no scars and now he's going to go to Iraq. Why?"
Every day she lays out newspaper reports of the latest American casualties for her son, but when she presses him on why he has signed up he says "because I want to".
Fittingly for such a swing state, the boy's decision has split the family down the middle. Kim remains an ardent Republican supporter; her husband plans to vote Democrat. "I just tell my husband I'm always right," she says. "The soldiers have got their neck on the line over there. I'm tired of hearing all this knocking of our troops."
A recent Ohio-wide poll carried out by Cincinnati university suggests the Balzanos' predicament may be representative.
Asked whether they now approved of the invasion of Iraq, 50% of respondents said it was wrong and 47% said it was right. Similarly, 50% thought the war was going not too well or extremely badly, while 48% thought it was going fairly or very well.
Those numbers are tight - much tighter than the equivalent national polls on Iraq. But the benefit falls ever so slightly with the anti-war Democrats. And in a state like Ohio, where presidential fortunes can be made or broken by just a handful of votes, that slim margin may be all it takes to unleash the tide.
© Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited 2006