ROGERS, Ohio — Looking for that perfect Snow White phone for the kids’ room? A spinning wheel, perhaps? How about a Winchester rifle, lovingly preserved, a steal at $675? No background checks required, of course.
The Rogers Flea Market, a weekly event in this northeastern corner of Ohio, draws people from far and wide, combing through mounds of goods in search of treasures. Locals say that if you hit every stand in the giant field where the market rents out space for $20 a shot, you’ll have walked more than four miles.
But on this crisp early fall day, the greatest finds might be the merchants themselves. With Ohio smack in the center of the political world, courtesy of frantic campaigning by both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, residents seem fairly well informed about the course of the campaign. This does not necessarily mean they like it, though.
“I wish there were an independent running,” said Jay Campbell, a retired painting contractor who now supplements his income by traveling to auctions, acquiring saleable junk and displaying it at flea markets. “I don’t trust either one of 'em.”
Campbell is a conservative, like many in this part of the state, and he is afraid of the proposed cuts in military expenditures that will follow automatically if Obama cannot come to an agreement with Congress on other ways to shave the federal budget.
It is an issue that Romney has hammered the president on time and again, and here at least, it seems to be working.
“The president is tryin’ to put us under without a shot being fired,” said Campbell. “But Romney doesn’t do a lot for me. I could do better 'n either one of 'em.”
Campbell is waiting for his ship to come in — which it just might. He is from Carroll County, Ohio, where one of the country’s biggest gas finds has just been announced. Within just a few years, Ohio could be the new Texas, and hardworking men like Campbell could become wealthy overnight. Quite a change from painting polka dots on the walls of Victoria Secret stores.
“They just sank 44 new wells," he said. “That’s 44 new millionaires. There’s another 136 coming.”
Campbell hopes to benefit from the boon, but his land holdings are pretty small.
“Things are pretty rough here in Ohio,” he said. “There’s lots of people out of work. If they don’t have jobs, they can’t buy my stuff.”
Ohio is actually doing relatively well. The state has a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, as opposed to 8.1 for the country overall. It is also the quintessential swing state — no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. This has made candidate-sightings a regular occurrence here in the Midwest, something that has these down-to-earth folk a bit mystified.
“I am not even sure if I’m going to vote,” said Edy Kwitowski, whose small stand seemed to lean toward china statues of Disney characters. She sits on the tailgate of her truck and cradles her miniature Chihuahua, Spike.
“I think Obama’s going to win,” she said. “I don’t particularly like him, but of the two, he’s the best.”
Asked what it was about Romney that did not appeal, she was categorical.
“I just don’t like him,” she said. “I don’t like the way he walks, I don’t like the way he talks.”
The now infamous “47 percent” video, in which Romney appears to dismiss almost half the country as irresponsible moochers, did not influence her much, she said.
“I didn’t like him before that, either," she said.
Down the way from Edy was John Myers, who carves lawn ornaments from wood, using a chain saw. His owls, mushrooms, bears and other artworks are prominently displayed.
Myers has one main issue on his mind.
“My son was in Afghanistan,” he said. “I could not trust the government to keep my only child safe.”
His son has since come back, safe and sound, but Myers is a bit bitter.
“Every time the phone rang my heart just stopped,” he said. He thinks that the president is prepared to gut the military, and Myers is not a fan of his politics.
“Obama is a socialist,” he said adamantly. “I don’t like big government, and I don’t want it in my life.”
“I hate Obamacare,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, which the president hails as one of his signature achievements in office. According to Myers, it is going to put the United States on a par with Canada — a dismal prospect, in his view.
“Just go to Cleveland,” he said. “It is full of Canadians who come here to get health care.”
But Myers is not convinced that Romney is the answer.
“Maybe he would do some better things for the economy, and he is stronger on the military,” said Myers. “But he sure is not a people person.”
A man selling lock picks, who would not give his name, agreed.
“I wish the Republicans had come out with a stronger candidate,” he said. “I can’t understand why [John] McCain did not win last time. He should have run again, with the campaign slogan, ‘I told you so.’ I liked Sarah Palin, too. She seemed pretty smart.”
Former Alaska Gov. Palin, McCain’s running mate in 2008, is widely seen as having contributed to McCain’s loss. Her flashy style and intemperate comments, combined with an almost total lack of federal or international experience, made her something of a laughingstock. She is still popular here in Ohio, though.
Close by sat a man who specialized in guns and knives. He had everything from a .22-caliber pistol that could fit easily into the smallest purse to a rather hefty .45.
His name was Lloyd Breeden, and he was decked out in a shirt that proclaimed, “The only answer to a BAD man with a gun is a GOOD man with a gun.”
His views, however, were a bit of surprise.
“I voted for Hillary in 2008,” he said, referring to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ran against Obama for the Democratic nomination in the last election.
Breeden is not crazy about the president, who lacked experience when he came into office, he said.
“I haven’t seen Obama do much in four years,” he said. “But Romney is just too rich. He is not going to do much for the middle class.”
Breeden’s choice, if he had his way?
“I’d vote for Sarah Palin if she were running,” he said. “She’s down to earth, she knows a lot about government, and she can gut a moose. I think she might be pretty good.”
He paused, and laughed.
“This year, though, I may be casting my ballot for Mickey Mouse.”