Will Ohio's economic uptick be a boon for Obama?

In this crucial battleground in campaign 2012, William Healy and Joe Halter stand on opposing sides of the great divide: How to jump-start the economy?
Associated Press
Sep 30, 2012

 

Healy, the Democratic mayor of Canton, recalls how, in the grim early days of 2010, when unemployment topped 13 percent, the budget was shrinking and pressures to meet payroll were mounting, his city desperately needed help. The rescue, he says, came with millions of dollars in federal funds that Canton used to repair bridges, pave streets, demolish homes, hire workers and help keep police and firefighters on the job.

"Those stimulus dollars allowed us to survive the recession," the mayor says. "Without them we would have been dead in the water."

Halter, meanwhile, is a Republican and CEO of a small steel forging company forced to cut workers during the downturn. He watched with frustration as billions of dollars were doled out to stimulus projects, drowning banks, the collapsing U.S. auto industry — and green energy companies.

"I don't know that government spending has ever really grown the economy," he says. "I don't believe in subsidies — period," Halter adds, pointing out no federal agency provided money when his business struggled. (It has since rebounded and added workers.) He prefers tax cuts and less regulation.

The debate over how big government should be and how much it should do — a common theme in this campaign — has special resonance in this pivotal state, where many hail the auto bailout as a catalyst in Ohio's recovery. It also raises larger economic questions about which direction — and which candidate — offer the best hope for more progress.

Will voters focus on the revitalized auto industry and unemployment below the U.S. average and regard President Barack Obama as the architect of a hopeful but not yet robust economy? Or will they see government as an obstacle, hundreds of thousands of people still out of work and look to Mitt Romney for the answers?

"Each side is selling a portrait," says James Brock, an economics professor at Miami University in Ohio. "For Obama, it's, 'Look, things are getting better, stick with me.' For Romney, it's, 'Things will be a lot better if you switch to me.' Where does the electorate go? Will they stick with what seems to be working or jump to something that might work better?"

The answer could determine who captures Ohio's 18 all-important electoral votes — and wins the White House.

___

Ohio was once synonymous with steel and rubber, a land of roaring blast furnaces that filled the night skies with smoke and flames, home to generations of blue-collar workers who streamed through the plant gates with clockwork precision every morning.

The era when Goodyear, Firestone and LTV dominated the Ohio landscape is long gone; the state has lost more than 368,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000.

But heavy industry still has an enormous presence. There are autos in Lordstown (General Motors), Toledo (Chrysler), Marysville (Honda) and Cleveland (Ford). There's steel in Youngstown and Lorain (and elsewhere). There are polymer companies making car parts, specialty tires, bowls, wall fabric, paint and more in Akron, the former rubber capital. There are medical hubs in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. There's farming across the state. And there's a natural gas boom in eastern Ohio, driving demand for steel parts used in drilling.

Politically, the state is as diverse as the nation:

The industrialized, union-friendly Northeast, and Democratic-dominated cities ringed by Republican-ruled suburbs with Christian evangelicals and soccer moms. Small towns and rural stretches between Dayton and Toledo running up western Ohio that go Republican. And hard-scrabble Appalachian communities among the hills and rivers of the southern and eastern tier that have Democratic roots but can swing Republican because of conservative social views.

That mosaic has helped cement Ohio's reputation as a bellwether: The state has picked the winner in all but two presidential races since World War II. No Republican has lost here and made it to the White House.

This year's contest is particularly intense with both candidates and their running mates making frequent appearances and their campaigns pumping in more than $100 million in TV ads, each side trying to open up a lead in what has generally been a neck-and-neck race.

Much of the focus is on the economy in this state where the jobless rate has dropped from its 10.6 percent recession peak to 7.2 percent in August — almost a point below the national average.

That decline, Brock says, complicates matters for the Republican ticket. "Romney wants to paint this picture that the economy is in a ditch and awful and the economy just refuses to play that role," he says.

In fact, Brock says, the state has bounced back more quickly than it did after earlier recessions.

"What's different this time is Ohio has recovered faster than the rest of the nation," he says. "We were quick to get hit, quicker to recover. In the past, we were quick to get hit and slower to recover."

The reason, he says, is many plants with antiquated equipment closed in the last few decades. "The strong survived, the weak disappeared and that left room for newer, stronger type of industries to pop up," Brock explains. "It's almost like a forest growing after a fire. What has grown since is much healthier, so it's recovered quicker."

And yet, not everyone is prospering.

About 10 percent of the state's counties have double-digit unemployment, especially those in long-distressed Appalachian areas of southern Ohio. State and local governments are still shedding jobs and Ohio has regained less than 40 percent of the 370,000 jobs lost during the downturn, according to Brent Campbell, an analyst at Moody's Analytics.

The result: continuing anxiety, even among those with a paycheck.

"Uncertainty is what's driving people's emotions right now," says Jason Haas, president of the Akron school board and an Obama supporter. "There's a lot of fear out there — uncertainty that my job is still going to be there in 12 months, that I'm ever going to get a raise again, that my health care's going to go up."

Haas knows some folks think the president should have turned the economy around by now, but he doesn't. "These were the worst economic times since the Great Depression," he says. "I think it's foolhardy to expect that we're going to come out of it in three years," he declares, adding that a relatively small group of Obama backers "maybe had greater expectations than political reality allows."

There's no question, though, Ohio's economy has improved. The question: Why?

Obama and his supporters point to the U.S. auto comeback and a manufacturing rebirth. Republican Gov. John Kasich lauded his own policies in a speech at the GOP convention, noting he'd erased a projected $8 billion deficit without a statewide tax increase and Ohio has moved from 48th to 4th in job creation. His office says 122,500 jobs have been created since he took office in January 2011.

So who's right?

"They both served the state well," says Ned Hill, professor of economic development at Cleveland State University. "The fact is if this wasn't a political season, they'd both be sharing credit. They both played important roles."

Kasich has recruited international food companies and manufacturers, improved the regulatory climate for businesses, taken innovative steps to finance infrastructure and promoted the energy boom that will produce oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids, an industry that already has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, Hill says. "He took it from zero to 100 miles an hour," the professor adds.

Obama, meanwhile, also should be credited for being "aggressive" in providing stimulus dollars. Ohio received about $8.8 billion, with much going to communities such as Canton. Mayor Healy says his city is still struggling, but without those funds "we would have been in a world of hurt."

Hill also praises Obama for "having the guts to do the auto bailout," which he says "preserved a large part of the state's economy."

Campbell, the Moody's analyst, agrees it was helpful. "The jobless rate definitely would have been higher if we had not had the rescue," he says.

The U.S. auto industry's renewed vigor has become frequent fodder for Obama and other Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, a target of Republican super PACS in his re-election bid. In one TV ad, the senator touts his support of the bailout standing before a Chevy Cruze, rattling off Ohio cities that produce parts of the car.

And in campaign appearances before autoworkers, the president and Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly remind voters Romney opposed the bailout, sometimes referring to the Republican nominee's widely quoted 2008 op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

Romney preferred a managed bankruptcy — without federal funds — and maintains the rescue was unfair, unnecessary and political payback to the unions.

While the candidates differ on the need for the bailout, Obama and Kasich, the governor, differ on its impact.

Kasich's office says that since he became governor (20 months ago), the 122,500 new jobs have been in areas such as plastics, metal and food manufacturing, health care and information technology — and auto jobs have actually dropped by 3,200. That count is limited to workers who assemble cars and make parts.

The Obama administration takes a longer and wider view in a bailout that began under former President George Bush, more than two years before Kasich became governor. In a three-year period starting in June 2009 — when GM and Chrysler were emerging from bankruptcy — it reports a gain of 17,400 industry jobs. Those numbers include auto parts stores and dealerships.

What is indisputable is the auto turnaround has been good for Ohio, where about one in eight jobs is linked to the industry.

In August, GM announced it will invest $220 million in manufacturing plants in Lordstown and Parma to build the next-generation Cruze, preserving more than 5,000 jobs. Chrysler is adding 1,100 jobs by late 2013 at its assembly complex in Toledo where it will make a new Jeep sport utility vehicle. Three years ago, there were rumors about the plant's future after production had dwindled to one shift.

Not surprisingly, many autoworkers like Obama.

"He had our backs then," says Dave Green, president of UAW Local 1714 in Lordstown. "We have his back now."

"It was a courageous decision," says Jim McGowan, a 24-year GM veteran. "It was a risk because he didn't know what the outcome would be. ... I know there are a lot of people out there that don't like it. But the (government) loaned all the money to these banks and they were making all these crazy investments. With the auto loan, they were at least supporting workers and keeping good jobs in the community."

Still, there remain fierce opponents to the idea of using taxpayer dollars to help troubled companies.

"If they can't stand on their own, they don't deserve to be propped up," says Halter, the steel company CEO and Romney supporter. "Nobody propped up Toyota or Nissan. ... That was unfair. That was a political gift to the United Auto Workers. There's no way around it. I could care less whether General Motors goes away because there's somebody else there that's going to take their place."

The rescue does have one Republican booster: Randy Hunt, a lawyer, head of the Stark (Canton area) Development Board and owner of two small businesses, one an auto parts company.

Hunt says government is too big, too intrusive and spends too much money, but acknowledges from a "selfish standpoint" the bailout was a "great thing. ... The federal government needs to step in periodically to help the private sector."

This isn't the only polarizing election issue in Ohio.

Democrats and unions vow to remind voters of Romney's support of a law supported by Kasich and approved last year by the GOP-dominated legislature that would have severely restricted collective bargaining for some 350,000 public workers, including police and firefighters.

The measure, billed as a cost-cutting necessity, was resoundingly repealed in a referendum eight months later, following protests, a statewide petition drive and a multimillion dollar campaign spearheaded by unions.

"Everybody I talk to it's like 'Remember the Alamo,'" says John Russo, co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University. "There may be a small decline of energy because of time, but people have very strong memories and feel betrayed."

Al Tuchfarber, a polling expert and professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati, disagrees.

"The bottom line is that issues aren't nearly as important as they're made out to be," he says, with the exceptions being the economy and an unpopular war. "They're what I call the 800-pound gorilla — when they jump on the table, they knock off everything else."

Tuchfarber says he doesn't think the collective bargaining fight or auto loans will matter much and Ohio will continue to vote 1 percent to 3 percent more Republican than the nation. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by 4.6 percent.

But other economic issues weigh on voters' minds.

For Hunt, the lawyer and Romney supporter (he likes the GOP nominee's business credentials), it's spending.

"Nobody's coming up with a viable solution to deal with our federal deficit," he says, adding that he'd willingly pay higher taxes if he knew the money was used responsibly. "If you said 5 percent for five years and it's all going to go for the federal deficit," he says, "I'd be the first person to sign up."

For Ed Burgy, it's Romney's plan to cut income tax rates across the board, including for the wealthiest households. Burgy, who recovered after losing two jobs with auto suppliers during the recession, sees this as a return to trickle-down economics.

"I'm 46 and I've never seen it trickle down to me," he says. "The people who own the companies — they don't trickle it down to the employees. ... Show me the proof and I'll listen to you."

Burgy, who's backing Obama, says he'd rather no one receive the cut if it means the richest Americans will get more. "I try not to be jealous, I try not to be petty but every one of those guys is making big money," he says. "They have tons of ways to shelter their money even if they were paying the old rate."

And, he adds, there already are vast inequities in corporate America, with some CEOs earning five, six times that of small business owners. "Is that fair?" he asks. "How are we going to keep our country afloat if we keep letting that happen?"

For Aaron Foust, who has a small furniture refinishing business, there's a different money worry: entitlement programs.

He says Obama's words about welfare recipients don't match his deeds. Publicly, Foust says, the president is urging "them to go to work, but if they (did) ... they wouldn't need him anymore. He needs their vote. As long as they're dependent on the government, they're going to vote for the people that give them money."

Foust, who is backing Romney, believes the system is weighted against hard workers.

"The more money you make, the more you're taxed, the more you have to give to people who don't work," he says. .... "I feel he (Obama) paints a target on my back and he wants to redistribute wealth and I can't stand that."

But Haas, the school board president, thinks voters expected too much from Obama — both in changing the rancorous tone in Washington, D.C., and erasing a huge financial mess.

"I think people give way too much credit to what a president can actually do to influence a national economy," he says. "Whoever's in that seat has the ability to guide and push, but they're pushing upstream."

 

Comments

There you go again

Union jobs were saved but white collars lost jobs, pensions, and healthcare. I don't think Obama saved GM because now the government owns it through massive loans. How about 79% of GM sales one month were to the government. Ya think Obama had anything to do with that?

Darwin's choice

Obama = Failure. Time for another "change" !

mikel

"As long as they're dependent on the government, they're going to vote for the people that give them money." - AMEN!

"..with some CEOs earning five, six times that of small business owners." - yet nobody complains about prez o's real friends. those in bollywood. you know, oprah winfrey who made over $100 million last year, george clooney who made $20 mil+, madonna who made over $29 mil etc etc. people, wake up, prez o don't care about the common man. he may say he does but then why does he have fundraiser's that cost $25G and up? how many common folk are going to those??

mikel

"Healy, the Democratic mayor of Canton.....hire workers .."

so, let me get this straight. you couldn't afford these workers without fed gov't money. you now hire them. the fed gov't typically only gives this money for 2-3 years then cuts it. what will you do at that point?? how about, mayor healy, that you and your town come up with a financial plan that allows for this? yeah, i know, it is easy doing things with fed money.

Unassumer

there's an uptick? I want a bigger tax refund then.

wiredmama222

Not if the Republican governor has anything to say about it. According to him, there is no boom. In fact, according to him, nothing good is happening in Ohio. That was his latest report to the Republican Convention that was just held. So what are we to believe? The lies of one party over another? This is what I hate about the party system...the lies they tell.

KURTje

Regardless of ones voting preference, I feel Obama will win. Here's why. Most under 60 have known much economic strife before our present CIC. Most under 60 view the R's as old, monied & out of touch with day 2 day life. imo it will be a close win.

The Big Dog's back

Exactly kurt.

Swamp Fox

Unemployment at 8% or higher ever since Obbie took office, largest debt in history, 300,000 less people working since Obbie took office only the true deomcrappers and fools could believe, which explains the last two comments......

bored reader

Hitting the "Like" button!!

Contango

Based on the 2010 census and the loss of population, Ohioans continue to 'vote with their feet.' Its political influence is waning.

If Mr. Obama wins OH on Nov. 6, he'll forget it on the morning of Nov. 7.

KURTje

L@@k sf..I won't cry to the moderaters although beacause of my exeperiences you are 60 or older. Your hate is evident. Too bad you don't hold a DD-214. Re-read what was posted & when events transpire maybe you'll recall this discourse.

deertracker

OBAMA 2012!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Don S

What happens to the money that each canndidate raises ??? What they don't use, they can KEEP. No president can do much, without congress(both houses) working with him. In the house, the Republicans are the majority, in the Senate, it takes 60 votes that can pass or stop legislation. The Republicans are so bent on Obama having one term, that they are willing to have the US economy go broke, to make Obama look bad. They have almost accomplished having the country go broke. What is so wrong with compromise? Obama has reached out to compromise, but the Tea bagger Republicans turned their backs to him. Now, if anyone is willing to debate, I will listen. But I know that some can only use personal attacks.

eriemom

I think that the money can be used during the election what remains can be set aside and used in other years, or donated to other politicians. I don't think that the money can go into their checking accounts.

The Tea Party made the word 'compromise' a bad thing. Primary elections have made it imposible to elect leaders instead of partisan puppets.

Contango

@ eriemom:

"Compromise" isn't a "bad thing," but borrowing, printing and spending to place our prodigy into crushing debt is.

Do you know why Rome, Spain, the USSR and countless other empires and great nations collapsed? Debt.

We are on the same course.

If you believe that Obamanomics is such a good idea, get out your credit cards and spend your way to wealth.

Contango

@ Don S:

The Repubs won't "compromise" and are "willing to have the economy go broke"?

What about the U.S. budget debt ceiling debate last yr. and the "compromise"?

NEWS FLASH: The U.S. is projected to 'run out of money' in Dec. unless the debt ceiling ($16.394 trillion) is raised again.

How many more hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars of printing, borrowing, taxing and spending ourselves increasingly into debt should the Repubs "compromise" on?

http://money.cnn.com/2012/09/05/...

The Big Dog's back

Answer to that orangatango, until bush's wars are paid for.

Contango

@ Doggie:

Heck, we're still payin' for Truman's and LBJ's wars.

Pres. Obama probably woulda just apologized for 9.11 and sent bin Laden a few million dollars.

BTW: Our troops are headed back to Iraq.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/2...

Darwin's choice

Obama's worst nightmare........a sensible American!!!!
Editorial letter from the Virginian Pilot Newspaper:

Casting a 'no' vote
In my lifetime, I have never seen anything so difficult as 'criticizing' President Barack Obama. I have had a neighbor actually become offended because I disagreed with, as she put it, 'her Obama.'

Since when is a president above accountability, or beyond being asked questions that concern one of us? I am not voting for who a person is I'm voting for what a person has done. I will not be bullied into ignoring this president's record.

On Nov. 6, I will exercise my right to vote. And with my vote, I will be saying no to legalized abortion, no to taxpayer dollars paying for contraceptives and 'morning-after' pills, no to downsizing our military, no to reckless government spending, no to over-regulation of small business, no to government-mandated redistribution of wealth, no to burdening my children with a debt we will never pay off, no to changing the Constitution, no to giving people in need no other option but staying in need, no to welfare without individual responsibility, no to killing the American dream, no to funding terrorists, no to alienating Israel, no to 'the new kind of family,' and, finally, no to taking away individual freedom in exchange for some idealistic idea that we are all one big collective.

I can do that because, as an American, I am free to do that.

Donna Strout
Chesapeake

The Big Dog's back

A right wingnut's manifesto.

44846GWP

Sounds like a grumpy old man clinging to his guns and god. Sorry Gramps, "the times, they are a changing".

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

In the left-wingnut liberal world...

You can get arrested for expired tags on your car but not for being in the country illegally.

Your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more of our money.

Hard work and success are rewarded with higher taxes and government intrusion, while slothful, lazy behavior is rewarded with phones, EBT cards, WIC checks, Medicaid and subsidized housing.

The Big Dog's back

neverthinks, how is setting around the pool drinking martinis, collecting interest off dividends at a 15% tax rate hard work?

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

How in the world did you find out what I do all day???

Before I could just sit around the pool while collecting dividends, I had to first become educated and actually earn an income. Wise investing through the years pays off in this great capitalist society. You should have tried it, instead of greedily expecting a share of the results of others hard work.

The Big Dog's back

neverthinks, so, you must be doing pretty well under President Obama. Glad to hear it.

shucks

nice shooting,Big Dog

shucks

.

KURTje

You teabillies knew a better economy. You know Mittens is on the ropes. Might as well start "yer" crying. WAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! Obama

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

If BO does get reelected, it will only prove the majority of voters are incompetent and are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. I’ll still be wise and intelligent, but as far as all the Obama sheep…well, ya just can’t fix stupid.

44846GWP

thinkagain, you...wise...intelligent? hahahahahahahahaha oh my god..hahahahaha. You are right though..you can't fix stupid or change a bigot.

thinkagain's picture
thinkagain

You OK Skippy? I hope you didn’t soil your diaper.

Can you please come up with some new material. If bigot, mouth breather and ignorant is all you can come up with, let me know, I’ll help you out. I mean after all, if you’re going to be my own personal troll boy, I expect a certain level of creativity and perspicaciousness.

mikel

like a paragraph in the article says...those who are dependant on the gov't for taking care of them will continue to vote for those people. so, those people have NO incentive to make a better life for themselves.

eriemom

"the quality of those people's ideas"

Actually, most of us have figured out the Mr. Romney's idea are more of the same. Nothing new. No change. Just "doubling down (Clinton)" on old ideas that have gotten us here.

Darwin's choice

Big Dog...."snip,snip"

coasterfan

Isn't it amusing to hear conservatives talk about unemployment, considering the following:

The Republican house voted down an Obama sponsored bill that had cleared the senate that would have rewarded companies who didn't export jRobs to China, and penalized companies who did?

Republicans have also voted almost unanimously AGAINST every jobs bill that Obama has presented during his term?

Now, please tell us anything ANYTHING that Republicans have done to help. All gains made during Obama's term have come IN SPITE of Republicans.

eriemom

That spite is the reason that all of us need to vote out every tea party representative.
The "job creators" think that the middle class should be responsible for the poor. The problem is that the middle class has shrunk.

Why are so many receiving food stamps? We ARE talking about food here. Not wealth. We will vote for President Obama and in 2016 vote for Hillary Clinton. The only way this can be stopped is through deceit and disenfranchising millions of Americans.

mikel

even a gain of $5 trillion+ in deficit!

KURTje

Again.....facts. In Huron County 3major employers quit. Where in the h@ll were the GOP's, TEA Party or even Log Cabin Republicans? Nowhere. All of that before Barrack was elected. Lt. Gov. Fischer tried to stave off the quitters, but to no avail. F the R's......

2cents's picture
2cents

(he likes the GOP nominee's business credentials)
I do as well. We gave the throw $$$ at it team a chance and now we have debt that my daughters daughter will be paying for. There is no money tree and the time has come for the country to be guided on some sound business policy as well as regain our strength in the world. I saw our president bow to a foreign president, my god I thought I was going to puke up my coffee that morning. They are such whimps!

eriemom

That whimp killed Bin Lauden.

2cents's picture
2cents

The military tracked and killed Bin Laden. B.O. just said “ok you can do it”
Last week terrorists were killing Americans and he hopped on air force 1 to go campaign in Los Vegas too!
A very sorry excuse for the leader of this country!

mikel

prez o is gutless. when did he serve in the military?? btw your wonderful prez gave up some details on the guys that killed bin laden which now makes them big TARGETS! niceeeee.

Contango

I think that the piece that Bill Kunstler posted over the weekend is prescient:

"Meanwhile, genial Barack Obama glides to victory and then presides over four more years of implacable contraction that will make the Great Depression look like an episode of Cake Boss"

If according to the liberals, 'evil genius' Pres. Bush messed up the economy, 'incompetent and clueless' Pres. Obama is more than likely gonna muck it up even worse.

http://kunstler.com/blog/2012/09...

coasterfan

It IS rather funny to watch Ohio Republican leaders dance the tightrope. On one hand, they say things are better in Ohio due to a Republican governor. On the other hand, they say things are worse in Ohio due to a Democrat president. They hope that no one will notice that their right hand and left hand are sending completely opposite messages.

It gets even funnier watching them try to tap dance around the Auto Bailout. In their weird alternate reality, the auto bailout was a failure. I'm pretty sure that the hundreds of thousands of Ohio/Michigan workers whose jobs were saved by the bailout would disagree.

Republicans bigger challenge in Ohio is to get Ohioans to believe that their tax policies, which heap bigger taxes on the middle class and provide EVEN BIGGER tax breaks to millionaires is somehow going to help the middle class.
I choose not to believe their self-serving misinformation.

Contango

@ coasterfan:

So, how many shares of GM stock do you own? (33% off it's IPO price and no div'd.)

Have you bought a new GM or Chrysler recently?

What make of car(s) do you drive?

Do you walk the talk with your own money?

GottaloveNorwalk

no comment

2cents's picture
2cents

Well, I did my American duty today! I bought a 2013 Chrysler 300 so I can get out on the road and try to get back some of the business I lost when Parker Hannifin took a huge chunk of our products and moved them to China to cut costs. I am still down 50% of my people and they are hoping their boss can get them back in production soon. I could however just move my production to China and say the hell with employees, the new health care tax will hurt our competiveness so much why bother! Time and who becomes the next president will set these decisions in motion.

Darwin's choice

2cents......it will hit the fan jan.1.......hope Coasterfan has his "self serving" finances arranged.......
http://atr.org/days-taxmageddon-...