Ohio state of mind

Published July 15, 2004 3:01PM (EDT)

The Dayton, Ohio focus group that keeps Karl Rove up at night, from USA Today:

'''240,000 new jobs at Taco Bell, and our manufacturing is draining away to Indonesia and China,' snorts Deborah Harris, 53, a homemaker who voted for Bush four years ago and is undecided now.

And Iraq?

'I want to scream, 'Get out! Get out!' ' says John Franz, also 53, the supervisor at a blood-donation center who voted for Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and is inclined to support John Kerry this year. 'It's a no-win situation there.'''

"If the problem with Kerry is that they don't know him well enough, they seem to feel they know Bush too well. The president has no fervent defenders in this group ... When it comes to the economy, no one cites brightening corporate profits or the rising stock market. They scoff at the idea that the nation has turned the corner when it comes to creating jobs. The service jobs they see available now pay less and don't provide the health benefits offered by the manufacturing jobs that built the middle class in Rust Belt states such as this one. Asked who sees the past year as a good one for the United States, no one raises a hand."

And is anyone listening to the president and his conservative allies with their dire warnings about the supposed threat to the institution of marriage? The Ohio dozen saw through the hysteria:

"'There are more important topics that ought to be discussed way before this,' says William Pant, 36, a graphic designer and undecided voter. Heads nod around the table."

Dayton is in Montgomery County, which went for Bush over Gore by less than 5,000 votes of more than 371,000 cast in 2000.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer is running an interesting, necessary series called "Five Ohios," which identifies the diverse regions of the state and the dynamics that will define the election in this most critical of battleground states. The first installment was devoted to Appalachia, where the state's name is pronounced "A-hi-ya."

From the P-D: "This could be the year the Ahiyans seize the national limelight because Appalachia has not yet hitched itself to either political party during the presidential election season. While the Cleveland area votes Democrat and the Cincinnati region is reliably Republican, the hill counties tend to shift allegiances. Of the 23 Ohio counties that went for Bill Clinton in 1996, then flipped to George W. Bush in 2000, 16 were in Appalachia, with more than 75,000 of the region's votes swinging to the Republican side, helping Bush carry the state."

"Could they flop back? Right now, many residents are like Harold Brown, the retired postmaster in Vinton who works as the 'Smiley Man,' or greeter at Wal-Mart. Brown, 73, said he has a history of voting for the presidential candidate who wins. He's not sold on Bush, nor Kerry, whose name he never mentioned. He speaks of Kerry as 'the Democrat.' 'The problem is that the economy in this part of Ohio is not the best in the world,' he said. 'This is no place for young people, but for seniors like me, I think it's good. We don't have all the hustle and bustle of a big city. We can sit in our rockers.'"

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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