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In the final stretch of the Presidential election, President Barack Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney are spending a lot of time in the swing state of Ohio.
Polls show the two are pretty close in the Buckeye State, with Obama slightly ahead. Polls show similar numbers for the hotly-contested Ohio Senate race, where Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown is facing Republican state Treasurer Josh Mandel.
(I wrote about this race in the October cover story.)
A lot of out of state money is swinging into Ohio, too. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on October 6, "conservative super PACs and other third-party groups linked to corporations and Republican strategist Karl Rove, some using money from undisclosed donors," have collectively, "spent more against Brown than on anyone else in Congress."
The economy has been bouncing back in Ohio, which is playing a pivotal role in the races. One facet of the recovery was the auto bailout, which Brown championed but Mandel didn't take a stand on. Auto plants are still big in Ohio and in 2010, General Motors began producing the Chevy Cruze at its Lordstown plant, adding 1,200 new jobs to that facility. Production of the Cruze has had ripple effects in other manufacturing plants in Ohio.
Brown explained all this at a July campaign event in Dayton. "Its engine was made in Defiance, Ohio," he told the crowd. "The transmission comes from Toledo, Ohio. The steel comes from Middletown, Ohio. The seats come from Warren, Ohio. The aluminum comes from Cleveland, Ohio. The brackets come from Brunswick, Ohio. The stamping is done in Parma, Ohio."
The Senator noted that the small but steady gains in manufacturing jobs do not make up all the ground lost between 2000-2010, when the country shed five million manufacturing jobs. "It's not enough to put all your neighbors back to work. It's not enough to put you back to work," he said. "But we are going in the right direction."
Dayton lies in the western part of Ohio, just south of the counties represented by House Speaker John Boehner. Like other parts of the state, Montgomery County has seen manufacturing leave the area over the past ten years. Obama eked out a victory in Montgomery County, but the surrounding counties went for McCain. Southwestern Ohio is a place where Brown's opponent, thirty-four-year old Mandel, the state's treasurer, could do well.
And while Brown has been talking about the improving jobs situation, so have the Ohio Republicans.
Republican Governor John Kasich, who won office in 2010 in a wave of conservative triumphs across the state, has been boasting about the economic recovery, including the auto industry. But when Mitt Romney comes to Ohio, he often denounces the disastrous economy. Kasich ends up sounding more like Obama than the GOP nominee.
It would be unwise, though, to assume that all autoworkers will be supporting Brown or Obama in November. Parts of Ohio, especially the north, could be considered "Reagan Democrats" territory. The moniker refers to working class, socially conservative whites in Macomb County, Michigan, who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, after supporting Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s.
White working class voters without college education are the "independent voters" of 2012. The Republicans nationally now count them among their base -- alongside their other base, millionaires.
Plus, Ohio a swing state for a reason: people in the state go back and forth when it comes to Election Day. Voters threw out Mike DeWine in 2006 when Brown took his Senate seat. But they voted for DeWine again in 2010 when he ran for Attorney General.
Ohio is a big, complicated state, Seth Rosen, a longtime organizer for the Communications Workers of America, told me in April (Rosen passed away unexpectedly in July). "Folks can be truly conflicted about stuff -- they can be pro-bail out and pro-life," he said.
If you liked this story by Elizabeth DiNovella, the Culture Editor of The Progressive magazine, check out her story "Lady Parts Justice."
Follow Elizabeth DiNovella @lizdinovella on Twitter.