Ohio 9th District
Toledo was one of America’s boomtowns in the 1920s, “a decade of fabulous figures,” as historian Harlan Hatcher wrote. The Willys-Overland plant employed 25,000 workers and turned out an automobile every 30 seconds. The Libbey-Owens-Ford merger made Toledo, with local supplies of natural gas and sand, the nation’s largest glass manufacturer. The city built docks for coal and iron-ore shipments and later erected an airport that could handle transcontinental flights. Toledo had long been well situated, where the Maumee River empties into Lake Erie, where two dozen rail lines connected it with the East Coast, Chicago, and the coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia. It was well positioned to be a center of the brash auto industry and became a national leader when it first produced the Jeep in the 1940s. During World War II, it also produced aircraft parts, rockets and other military equipment. But by the early 1980s, the domestic auto industry was faltering, as foreign competitors brought to the market better, lower-maintenance cars that were more economical to drive. Toledo and other auto-dependent cities went through tough times.
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But revival was on the way. Toledo’s small manufacturers in search of markets showed energy and ingenuity. Sport utility vehicles were invented here, and the city produced one of America’s hottest vehicles, the Jeep Cherokee. The old Jeep plant was set to close, but the city offered Chrysler $300 million in incentives to stay, and a new plant was built along Interstate 75. For years, the Jeep Liberty and Jeep Wrangler factories here were barely able to meet demand. Then, with competition and higher gasoline prices, the good times ended. In 2007, Jeep eliminated its third shift and 750 workers, and the following year, Chrysler dropped the second shift at the same plant. The continuing loss of auto and other manufacturing jobs took a toll. In 2008, the Milken Institute ranked Toledo 194th among 200 cities in job growth; most of the other bottom cities were in Ohio and Michigan.
The 9th Congressional District of Ohio is centered on Toledo, spreading east through the flatlands of Ottawa and Erie counties on the Lake Erie shore and inland to southern Lorain County southwest of Cleveland. It includes Oberlin, home of Oberlin College, founded in 1833 and the first American college to admit women and blacks. Port Clinton, on Lake Erie, bills itself as the “Walleye Capital of the World” and drops a plastic walleye in place of a glittering ball on New Year’s Eve. Sandusky is home to the giant Cedar Point amusement park, with some of the country’s fastest roller coasters. Not far away is Milan, birthplace of the great inventor and capitalist Thomas Edison. Politically, Toledo has been heavily Democratic since CIO unions organized the plants in the late 1930s. The collapse of the auto industry so unnerved the district it voted for Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980 and elected a Republican congressman, but it switched back to the Democrats in 1982 and has stayed with them in almost every election since. In 2008, the district voted 62% to 36% for Democratic candidate Barack Obama.