In response to requests for interviews about the nominees’ travel, the campaigns offered only perfunctory statements maintaining that their policies will create a better quality of life for all voters.
“Our campaign has invested in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in order to talk to voters about the clear choice they face in this election between the president’s vision to get people back to work and restore economic security for the middle class—and Mitt Romney’s plan to bring us back to the failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place,” wrote Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher in an e-mail. “While the president’s travel is focused on those areas where the race is tightest, and unfortunately he can’t make it to every county, we work hard to run an accessible campaign that empowers and reaches every American, allows them to hear the president’s messages, and helps them understand how their lives have improved as a result of his first term in office.”
Romney’s deputy communications director, Sarah Pompei, e-mailed this statement and refused to answer follow-up questions over the phone: “Gov. Romney is the only candidate laying out a plan for the next four years that will get our economy growing and create jobs for 12 million people in this country. Voters understand they have a choice between a candidate with a plan to help the middle class and small businesses and more of the same, and they know they can’t afford four more years of the last four years. That’s why we’re seeing support and enthusiasm continue to grow across all areas of the country, and you’ll see that manifested in the best voter turnout operations a Republican candidate has ever seen.”
As president, Obama can tout his health care overhaul as a concrete achievement that will help improve the lives of the nation’s hardest-hit residents. Starting in 2014, “Obamacare” will provide subsidies to low- and middle-income people to buy health insurance, making coverage more affordable for an estimated 19 million people by 2019. The law also expands eligibility for Medicaid, the insurance program for poor and disabled Americans, to another 17 million people (although it’s unclear how many will ultimately be covered, because the Supreme Court reversed a section of the law that would have financially penalized states that decline to enlarge the program). Obama has also expanded eligibility for food stamps, building on steps taken by former President George W. Bush.
Romney’s principal prescription for the poor is the good economy he says he can deliver. But at least two of his proposals could weaken the safety net. He wants to repeal Obama’s health care law, for a start. He also wants to turn Medicaid into a block grant and curb its growth. The Kaiser Family Foundation analyzed a Romney-like Medicaid proposal and concluded that over 10 years, spending would decrease $1.7 trillion below projected levels. The reduction would translate into at least 14 million fewer people covered, a 25 percent cut.
Judy Dixon, who has worked as executive director of the Pike County Outreach Council for more than 20 years, stood among dozens of cans of tuna and sliced pears and 10-pound bags of potatoes. The small warehouse, wedged between McConkey’s Auto Parts store and the Pike Heritage Museum, is a “choice food pantry,” which means that people get to pick the foods they prefer instead of being handed a prepacked grocery bag or meal.
The pixie-haired Dixon peered into an empty freezer and gestured toward the picked-over shelves. Business has spiked since Obama’s election, from under 1,200 people every month in 2008 to more than 3,000 people most months this year. The biggest reason: The decision to shut down the Mill’s Pride cabinet factory drove people to the pantry who had never before asked for handouts.
To Dixon, who has heard about Romney’s career taking over struggling companies that in some cases went under, the election is a no-brainer. “To me, there is this disconnect,” she said. “The way he seems and the way he does business, he would be the kind of guy who would close the plant.”
The bookkeeper and handyman at the food pantry, Ray Osborne, has little faith that either Romney or Obama will lift the county out of its economic slog. “I’m not really motivated [to vote]. I’ll be honest with you,” said Osborne, leaning on cases of pinto beans. “Look at the Congress. They don’t get along, and they don’t get anything done.”
Ohio’s Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland grew up just south of Pike County and knows it well. He doesn’t fault the candidates for not making it down here, noting that Romney has been to neighboring Ross County and Obama drew 8,000 people to Athens County in southeastern Ohio. “I think they’re trying to get around,” he said. But he added that he understands the community’s frustrations with presidential politics. “When you grow up in an area like this, you feel as if much of the economic opportunities that are available are somewhere else,” Strickland said.