Rich Juby, 68, was listening from his own lawn chair next to hers. “I disagree about the cars. I don’t know if she would have had a job without the bailout,” said Juby, who worked in the assembly department of a manufacturing company for 42 years. He said he will vote for Obama. “Bush left Obama with a serious problem that’s taken him some time to straighten out,” he said. But Juby added, “The people I know are going with Romney. They figured they’ve done enough Obama; he’d dig us a bigger hole. All the guys have had it with Obama.”
IN ROMNEY’S QUIVER
Romney’s record, particularly questions about how involved he was or wasn’t when Bain Capital was investing in companies that shifted jobs overseas, is a drag on his candidacy in Rust Belt areas that have felt the pain of outsourcing and are still smarting. Parma even has a store, opened a year ago by two Cleveland-area cousins, called US Mart. The motto is “All products made in America.”
Still, Romney has an aggressive pro-business, anti-regulation message that appeals to some swing voters frustrated by the jobs picture. Some think that business is “the enemy,” the GOP candidate recently told business owners in Costa Mesa, Calif., but “I see you as the good guys.” Romney also wins points from some voters because of his conservative stands on social issues. And then there’s his trump card: He’s not Obama.
Krista Preusser, 41, of Canton, a cook in a school cafeteria, touched on much of that in describing her regret at voting for Obama in 2008 (“like an idiot!”) and her probable vote for Romney this fall. “Obama’s not doing a very good job. It’s just time for someone new,” she said before the start of a fireworks display in Canton. “I understand he didn’t really have a fair shake going in. But this whole Obamacare thing is going to be a nightmare. That and the [Keystone XL oil] pipeline—why did he vote that down?”
She added approvingly, “Mitt Romney says he’s about creating jobs. That pipeline is one of the first things he’s going to do.”
Obamacare—the Affordable Care Act—will make it easier for people with low incomes and preexisting conditions to get health coverage. It’s the main reason Barb Smith of Canton is enthusiastic about Obama. “I’m a fan simply because I don’t have insurance. I can’t pay,” said Smith, 59, a licensed practical nurse who provides home care when her migraines, fibromyalgia, and cervical stenosis allow her to work. “I can’t work much,” Smith said. “My husband is 65 and a trucker. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be able to do that.”
Some Obama leaners aren’t particularly excited about voting for him, but they like Romney less. James Martin, 52, manager of a grocery store in Canton, said he’ll probably vote for Obama, but “I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about it. I don’t have a whole lot of use for Romney. He’s into government for the upper class.”
Dan Strohl, 57, of Canton, whose job selling rebar was affected by the construction downturn, voted for Obama in 2008 and is “inclined” to vote for him again. He said that Romney’s agenda, topped by his emphatic opposition to the new health law, seems aimed at “getting Obama out; not helping the country. But, I have to say, we had a lot of hopes for Obama, but he’s been a disappointment. He’s put us in a lot of debt.”
Romney and his party are hoping to peel off noncollege voters in eastern and southeastern Ohio—blue-collar, Democratic areas—by homing in on the Obama administration’s new limits on emissions from coal plants and regulations that conservatives say are causing layoffs. Mike Carey, chairman of the Ohio Coal Association, says that the issue has the broader potential to motivate anyone who pays a monthly utility bill. “People are starting to realize: You take coal out of the mix, electric rates go up,” he said.
Ohio gave both campaigns reason for hope last year with ballot initiatives on health care and collective bargaining. The state voted 66 percent to 34 percent to reject the federal health law’s requirement that most people buy insurance. But it also voted 62 percent to 38 percent to reject conservative Gov. John Kasich’s law gutting the collective-bargaining rights of public employees.
Scott Jennings, Romney’s Ohio campaign director, said the referendum on the insurance mandate is pivotal because “it most directly applies to the presidential campaign. It’s most closely tied to Barack Obama’s first term in office.” The mandate was particularly unpopular in working-class counties that traditionally vote Democratic, he said. “It’s fertile ground for us.”
Aaron Pickrell, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign in Ohio, countered that the collective-bargaining fight gave cops, firefighters, teachers, and other public employees, including some conservatives, “a real stark reminder” of the differences between Obama and Romney, who supported the Kasich law. “It’s very personal to them,” Pickrell said.
Regardless of any appeal the president’s campaign makes, there’s a rock-solid wall of noncollege voters, most of them men, who have written Obama off. Typical is Tony McCauley, 35, of Canton, a ladle man who pours steel in the molten metal department of a mill. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m not voting for Obama,” he said. Why? “Obama is just mostly a talker. He’s talking and buffaloing his way through. He’s not really doing anything for the people.”
Obama doesn’t need the votes of many white, noncollege voters to win another term; just 35 percent or so would do it. Still, winning with a tiny share of them, and possibly a record low among noncollege men, would be a disturbing election footnote. But for the president, it would beat the alternative.