Opinions about whether the economy has improved under the president largely depend on party labels. “There’s no question things are worse off,” said Jerry Morkassel, 71, drinking coffee on a Sunday morning at McDonald’s. “He’s had four years to change things. The country is in debt more than it’s ever been. The country is more divided than it’s ever been in my lifetime. Why would we give someone more time who hasn’t worked out?”
Morkassel, whose white beard, windbreaker, and baseball cap shielded him from the foggy, brisk morning, credited Republican Gov. John Kasich, not the president, for the state’s falling unemployment rate. “Obama is antibusiness,” said the retired construction supervisor. “He wants government to control everything.”
Ed Jordan, a 65-year-old retired engineer, looked up from the sports section of The Columbus Dispatch. He’s also a Republican. “I’ll just take the lesser of two evils,” he said, referring to Romney. “Washington, D.C., isn’t for America anymore. They screw up everything.”
On the other side of the restaurant, 50-year-old David Dewitt was sitting with a handful of buddies who meet every Sunday morning to place their NASCAR bets. Dewitt runs the city-owned cemetery in Waverly. His wife owns a hair salon. His son plays tuba in the band at Ohio State University—a big deal here. “I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Dewitt, who heads the local Democratic Party. “We’re just not there yet.”
Across the table was Marlin Ramsey, who worked at a trucking company for 25 years. Before that, he worked at a company that made hydraulic pumps. Like most Pike County adults, he didn’t attend college. He receives Social Security and Medicare; his son teaches physical education at the high school. “I’m part of that 47 percent Romney said was no good,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think he has an interest in low-income or poor people. I think he’s really out of touch.”
Back at the food pantry, Frederick recalled the good old days at Mill’s Pride, where he earned almost $12 an hour. Now he works part-time at a grocery store that pays minimum wage, $7.70 per hour. That’s not nearly enough to support himself, his son, and his daughter who lives with his ex-wife but comes over for meals sometimes. Frederick was hesitant to talk politics at first, but once he got going, he realized he had a lot to say about presidential candidates ignoring Pike County.
“Everyone just talks about the middle class,” he said. “What about the lower class?” Clutching one plastic bag of food in each hand, Frederick stepped out into the autumn chill.
This article appeared in print as "Beyond the Trail."
George E. Condon Jr. contributed
This article appears in the Oct. 27, 2012, edition of National Journal.