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Battleground Ohio: As Obama, Romney Make Pitch, Are Voters Listening?

June 18, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
After following Mitt Romney's bus tour to Ohio over the weekend, Gwen Ifill asks what's on voters' minds in the all-important battleground state. As polls tighten in the Buckeye State, Romney and President Obama are making their pitches on the economy.

GWEN IFILL: And we turn to the political campaign here at home. Ohio is up for grabs, as polls show Republican Mitt Romney in a tight race to win the prize President Obama scored four years ago; 18 electoral votes are at stake there and both candidates are ramping up their ground game.

But are voters listening?

Saturday afternoons in Brunswick, Ohio, are all about team sports. The boys play baseball, the girls, softball. On the sidelines, parents like asphalt worker Darrin Klinko worry.

DARRIN KLINKO, resident of Ohio: Me and my wife are talking. Our oldest daughter here, Brooke, will be going to college. How are we going to afford that? It is going to be hard for us to help her out and pay for it. She’s going to have to probably take on some debt. And I hate for my child to graduate from college and be $80,000-$100,000 in debt. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

GWEN IFILL: Jennifer and Michael VanHimbergen say that the nation is simply spending itself into a hole.

JENNIFER VANHIMBERGEN, resident of Ohio: I don’t want to strap my kids and my grandkids with debt. And I’m just really, really concerned about how we’re going to dig ourselves out.

GWEN IFILL: These fretful parents say they will probably vote for Mitt Romney this fall, because he shares their conservative values. But they are not fans of the political wars they see under way in Washington.

JENNIFER VANHIMBERGEN: You have one far one way and the far the other way. And nobody will come to the middle. And I don’t know if it’s because we only have two parties and either you are with that party or you’re not. And I just hope that somebody finally comes — becomes courageous and finds that middle ground. And the answer is not way over here and it’s not way over, and I don’t think most Americans are way over here and way over here.

GWEN IFILL: Campaigns target Ohio for good reasons. In two of the counties Mitt Romney visited this weekend, John McCain won four years ago, although Barack Obama won the entire state. And although the jobless rate here has dropped for 10 straight months, voters we talked to are still skeptical.

These voters see an economy that is still struggling to recover, a view Mitt Romney reinforced as his six-state bus tour cut through the heart of Ohio this weekend. Thousands came to see him with his family at this Apple farm in Brunswick.

MITT ROMNEY (R): It looks like the sun is coming out. And I think that’s a metaphor for the country.

MITT ROMNEY: The sun is coming out, guys.


MITT ROMNEY: Three-and-a-half years of dark clouds are about to part and it’s about to get a little warmer around this country.

GWEN IFILL: At his rallies, Romney certainly has his fans.

ANNE FOLTZ, resident of Ohio: I like his character. I like what he stands for. We have been Republicans all of our life. I just have always liked what he stood for. My husband knew his father. And I just like the man.

GWEN IFILL: But some of the wounds caused by a competitive Republican primary season are only now beginning to heal.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won 40 percent of the primary vote in Licking County earlier this year. Beau Bromberg, a local Tea Party activist, was one of the reasons why.

BEAU BROMBERG, Tea Party activist/resident of Ohio: The things I like about Santorum that I’m not 100 percent sure about Romney is the issue of life.

GWEN IFILL: But he spent yesterday afternoon at a Romney rally.

BEAU BROMBERG: I am working for Personhood Ohio to work to end abortion. And I don’t know if I 100 percent feel supportive with Romney on that issue. And then I am big on the Obamacare, which I know Romney says he will repeal. But there’s still a little bit of me saying what if he doesn’t.

GWEN IFILL: The reluctance to fully embrace the Republican nominee was striking. Debbie Dankowski did her Saturday morning shopping at the local farmer’s market.

DEBBIE DANKOWSKI, resident of Ohio: I am going with Romney because I think Obama has had a chance. And he’s made things way, way worse. But I’m not really excited about Romney either.

GREG CLEMENT, small Business Owner/Resident of Ohio: The traditional small business I think is very hard to run.

GWEN IFILL: And even Greg Clement, who owns the farm where Romney appeared. . .

GREG CLEMENT: Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

GWEN IFILL: . . . and led the Pledge of Allegiance at the campaign’s father’s day rally and pancake breakfast hesitates.

Do you consider yourself a Romney supporter?

GREG CLEMENT: You know, actually, so I’m not sure yet, to be brutally honest. I think this country needs some leadership that changes things up a bit. People in America don’t care if a Republican is president or a Democrat, an independent. There’s small groups of people that consider themselves staunch Republicans, staunch Democrats, but I think most people just want a better America.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama made his own Ohio swing last week targeting his message to the same types of alienated voters.

BARACK OBAMA: What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate.

GWEN IFILL: Construction worker Brian Ousley serves on the Brunswick City Council and remains a staunch Obama backer.

BRIAN OUSLEY, Brunswick, Ohio, city council member: Things are getting better as we speak right now. I know that I have been working. It’s been very bad the last few years in the Cleveland area. But the last few years, it’s been very steady for me.

And it’s about time because the eight years before that there was no work. I was struggling to make $20,000 a year.

GWEN IFILL: Mother of four, Robin Kocher, said she will have no problem voting for the president again.

ROBIN KOCHER, resident of Ohio: I think he’s done a very good job with what he had. I know a lot of people’s expectations are that it should be more than what it is. I’m amazed that he’s worked with what he had and things are the way they are. We have not gone backwards. We have held steady and moved forward slowly. And that was the best I think that any of us four years ago could have asked for.

GWEN IFILL: But don’t tell that to Kevin Noon. To him, every politician shares the blame.

KEVIN NOON, resident of Ohio: I’m not very optimistic about the direction of the country because we keep getting politicians in that don’t change anything. They stay the course. They’re families. They have been in it forever. That’s not the way the founding fathers intended it. They should come in, stay there one term, maybe two terms, and then go home. Let somebody else have a shot at it.

GWEN IFILL: Back at the ball field, it’s all about the kids. Bonnie Clark has two. Do you think your kids are going to do better than you are?

BONNIE CLARK, resident of Ohio: I don’t know. It’s scary.


BONNIE CLARK: I mean, I hope they do better. But the way things are going, I’m not real sure.

GWEN IFILL: In a nutshell, that’s the question at the heart of this and every election.

You can find more on Ohio and on the political fallout from the president’s decision to freeze deportations for some young immigrants on our online Politics page.