ANNOUNCER [narration]: THIS IS NEED TO KNOW WITH …MARIA HINOJOSA …SCOTT SIMON… RAY SUAREZ … AND THIS WEEK… JEFF GREENFIELD.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: ON THIS SPECIAL EDITION …WE’LL TAKE YOU TO A CRITICAL BATTLEGROUND STATE – OHIO. IT’S A MUST-WIN FOR THE GOP, BUT CAN MITT ROMNEY MOBILISE CONSERVATIVES AND WIN OVER THE SWING VOTE?
TOM ZAWISTOWSKI: We would love– wouldn’t it be great to have somebody that people are just so excited about that they’re, you know, just calling– the phones are ringing off the hook and people are volunteering? That’d be terrific.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: ALSO, HOW WILL THE ROMNEY RYAN ECONOMIC MESSAGE RESONATE IN A STATE LIKE OHIO?
JOHN CASSIDY: When you’ve had these sort of economic conditions, the opposition, whoever that is, usually wins. Romney should be doing a lot better than he is.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: AND WHY OHIO POLITICIANS MAY NOT WANT TO BE PRESIDENT. NEXT ON NEED TO KNOW.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Welcome to this first of three special editions of “Need to Know.” I’m Jeff Greenfield …thanks for watching. For the next three weeks, we’ll be coming to you from the site of the two major party conventions: here in Tampa, Florida, and later from Charlotte, North Carolina. Our goal is to go beyond the pomp and the circumstance, and look at what questions will decide this contest. This week and next, we’ll be bringing you reports from Ohio—that perennial battleground state that has eighteen electoral votes and that’s perhaps more likely than any other to tip the election to Obama or to Romney. Next week we’ll look at the democrats’ chances in Ohio. This week our focus is on the Republicans’ there. For Republicans Ohio has always been absolutely essential to winning the White House. So we wanted to hear from them how they sized up their prospects there—and—more importantly—what issues give them hope—and concern.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: AT THE RICHLAND COUNTY FAIR IN MANSFIELD, OHIO, THEY JUDGE ANIMALS GENEROUSLY. THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES? NOT SO MUCH.
DAWN: I’m not going to vote because I don’t like either one of them.
BRYAN MYERS: Why don’t you like either one of them?
DAWN: They both sound like scam artists to me.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: OTHERS HERE SAY THEY’LL VOTE, BUT ADMIT THEY’RE ON THE FENCE.
CAROLYN: I’m afraid you’re going to ask me, like, who I’m going to vote for and I don’t know.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THAT INDECISION AND INDIFFERENCE ARE TWO OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING THE REPUBLICAN TICKET IN OHIO THIS FALL. MANSFIELD, A CITY OF AROUND 47,000 PEOPLE, IS LOCATED IN THE HEART OF OHIO. IT IS CLASSIC “SWING VOTER” TERRITORY, IN A STATE WHERE THE MARGIN OF VICTORY HAS BEEN LESS THAN 5 % IN EACH OF THE LAST THREE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
REPUBLICAN PAT TIBERI: My name is Pat Tiberi. Congressman.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: ON THIS DAY, THE LOCAL CONGRESSMAN, REPUBLICAN PAT TIBERI, IS AT THE FAIR TOO. HE’S UP FOR RE-ELECTION AND HE IS WORKING TO HARVEST AS MANY VOTES AS HE CAN. OHIO, HAS SOME 11 AND A HALF MILLION PEOPLE, AND PRESSING THE FLESH AT EVENTS LIKE THE RICHLAND COUNTY FAIR CAN MAKE OR BREAK A CANDIDATE – ADVICE TIBERI IS HAPPY TO SHARE WITH THE ROMNEY CAMPAIGN.
REPUBLICAN PAT TIBERI: I think the more that you, as a Republican, contest every vote – which I think the perfect example of that is the Bush campaign in 2004. They went into every single community, they went into rural areas, suburban areas, urban areas, they went everywhere in the state, and focused on the ground.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: IN 2004, IT WAS GEORGE W. BUSH’S RAZOR THIN VICTORY IN OHIO OVER JOHN KERRY THAT IS CREDITED WITH GETTING HIM RE-ELECTED IN A VERY TIGHT NATIONAL RACE.
HAVING LEARNED A LESSON IN 2004, REPUBLICANS THIS YEAR ARE AGAIN MOUNTING AN AGGRESSIVE GROUND GAME IN OHIO. EARLIER IN THE DAY CONGRESSMAN TIBERI, ALONG WITH SENATOR ROB PORTMAN, HELPED OPEN UP A LOCAL REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN CENTER NEAR MANSFIELD.
REPUBLICAN PAT TIBERI: They’re not taking any voter for granted, whether it’s Mansfield or Shelby or Bellville or any part of this county or this state…
FOR THE NEXT TEN WEEKS, THESE VOLUNTEERS WILL BE WORKING THE PHONES AND KNOCKING ON DOORS AROUND TOWN. FOR REPUBLICANS, A FEW EXTRA VOTES IN OHIO COULD WELL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WINNING THE WHITE HOUSE AND LOSING IT.
REPUBLICAN PAT TIBERI: It’s a very tight race. I don’t believe any polls that shows Romney up, or Obama up. I think it’s a jump ball, statistically a dead heat.
JEFF GREENFIELD: For the Romney campaign, Ohio is not so much a target of opportunity, as a target of necessity. The math is inexorable. Throughout the party’s history, more than 150 years, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. So if you’re the Romney campaign, what are your hopes here? And what do you fear?
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: JOE HALLETT IS THE CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH.
JEFF GREENFIELD: If you’re a Republican, you’re looking at Mitt Romney’s fortunes what do you see where – here’s we have to pile it up. Take us around.
JOE HALLETT: If you’re a Republican– and– you wanna win Ohio, you need to pile it up in a triangle going out from Columbus, up north through Toledo, and south to Cincinnati. That whole western portion of the state. Very conservative farmland. Good Republican conservative Republican turf. And you can’t forget about Cleveland. Even though Cleveland is– the Cleveland media market is about 40% of the Democratic vote, it’s also 20% of the Republican vote.
JEFF GREENFIELD: And they come from where?
JOE HALLETT: Medina County, Lake County. Again, they’re–they’re emerging, fast growing suburban counties, lot of the richer folks are movin’ out there.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Does it go without saying that the economy is issues one through ten here this year?
JOE HALLETT: Oh, absolutely. It overwhelms every other thing you can talk about. People still don’t trust that their jobs are safe. They still don’t trust that their pension, their 401k’s, are gonna hold up.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: EVEN THOUGH THE JOBLESS RATE IN OHIO OF 7.2% IS BELOW THE NATIONAL AVERAGE, REPUBLICANS BELIEVE IT WILL BE CONCERNS ABOUT THE ECONOMY THAT WILL PUT OHIO IN ROMNEY’S COLUMN. THAT, AT LEAST, IS THE VIEW OF ONE OF OHIO’S DELEGATES TO THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION.
CHERI HOTTINGER: I think there are enough people out there that don’t like the direction we are headed and they want a new president.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: MEET CHERI HOTTINGER. A 40-SOMETHING MOTHER OF THREE, SHE WAS AN EARLY SUPPORTER OF MITT ROMNEY. SHE’LL BE IN TAMPA TO HELP NOMINATE HIM FOR PRESIDENT.
HOTTINGER LIVES IN NEWARK, OHIO, A CITY OF ABOUT 48,000 PEOPLE. ALONG WITH HER HUSBAND JAY, A STATE REPRESENTATIVE, SHE OWNS A SMALL ELECTRICAL CONTRACTING COMPANY. HOTTINGER SAYS SHE’S WORKED HARD FOR EVERYTHING SHE HAS AND SAYS MITT ROMNEY UNDERSTANDS PEOPLE LIKE HER.
CHERI HOTTINGER: My first job was at the– Cardinal Supermarket. I was a bagger. Then I had waitressed for a while. Have worked in a hotel chain in the construction department and the reservations– did that for a while. I just always had a job. Always liked to work. So I always wanted to work.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Worked through school. Worked—
CHERI HOTTINGER: I had to pay for my college. So I would work during the day and go to college at night, four nights a week.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Now it’s fair to say you were not part of the 1%.
CHERI HOTTINGER: That is fair
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: BESIDES HELPING TO RUN HER FAMILY BUSINESS, HOTTINGER IS ALSO PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, WHICH MAY BE ONE REASON WHY A RECENT REMARK BY PRESIDENT OBAMA LEFT HER AND MANY OF HER ASSOCIATES BRISTLING.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: If you got a business, you didn’t build that.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Did that strike a chord with you?
CHERI HOTTINGER: Of course.
JEFF GREENFIELD: How so?
CHERI HOTTINGER: Because we did build it. That’s what our country was founded on. If we don’t have entrepreneur spirit we don’t have a country. And that’s how I feel like. I feel like we are so lucky to be in this country and have the freedoms that we do. But we’re slowly getting them taken away.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: WHILE PRESIDENT OBAMA’S REMARK ABOUT NOT BUILDING ONE’S BUSINESS WAS WIDELY QUOTED AND USED AGAINST HIM BY HIS POLITICAL OPPONENTS, THE ADMINISTRATION WAS QUICK TO POINT OUT THAT THERE WAS MORE TO WHAT HE SAID.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that allowed you to strive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. You got a business, you didn’t build that.
JEFF GREENFIELD: So when the president says what I obviously meant,” “Of course you built it. But without the infrastructure the government provides or public schools or small business administration loans or economic development grants, that helps too.” Your response would be?
CHERI HOTTINGER: Government’s funded by tax dollars. So if you don’t have people here that are creating jobs and that are hiring people and employ people, you don’t have funding.
LIKE A LOT OF PLACES IN OHIO, HOTTINGER’S HOMETOWN OF NEWARK GOT HIT PRETTY HARD IN THE RECESSION, WITH UNEMPLOYMENT ESTIMATED TO HAVE PEAKED AT MORE THAN 11%. AND ALTHOUGH THE ECONOMY IN OHIO IS REBOUNDING FASTER THAN THE NATION AS A WHOLE, IN PART BECAUSE OF THE GENERAL MOTORS BAILOUT, POLITICAL REPORTER JOE HALLETT BELIEVES THERE’S STILL AN OPPORTUNITY FOR REPUBLICANS TO FRAME THE ECONOMIC DEBATE TO THEIR ADVANTAGE.
JEFF GREENFIELD: What is the Republican single strongest argument, as they go into this presidential campaign here, in Ohio?
JOE HALLETT: Big government, too much spending, Obama’s a socialist. The jobs aren’t coming back. The recession is taking too long to recover. There’s still too much of a misery index in this state. People feel it. I mean, you go to the small towns and medium cities in this state, and they– they look depressed.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Depressed?
JOE HALLETT: Yeah, it just– they just seem depressed. And– I think that’s what’s at play here, and that’s what Romney can tap into.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: ABOUT 40 MILES WEST OF NEWARK, ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF COLUMBUS, YOU’LL FIND OTP INDUSTRIAL SOLUTIONS, A DISTRIBUTOR OF MACHINE PARTS. WITH MORE THAN 400 EMPLOYEES, IT’S A LOT BIGGER COMPANY THAN CHERI HOTTINGER’S FIRM.
PHIL DERROW IS THE PRESIDENT OF OTP AND GENERALLY LEANS REPUBLICAN. EACH ELECTION, DERROW WRITES HIS EMPLOYEES, URGING THEM TO VOTE. HE SAYS HE STRICTLY AVOIDS ENDORSING ONE CANDIDATE OVER ANOTHER, BUT SIMPLY TRIES TO DRAW ATTENTION TO THE ISSUES. AND FOR DERROW, THIS ELECTION COMES DOWN TO A FUNDAMENTAL CHOICE BETWEEN COMPETING VISIONS NOT JUST OF THE ECONOMY, BUT OF AMERICA.
PHIL DERROW: …The president has consistently espoused policies and– and made remarks in his speeches that imply, if not explicitly state that– that we are not a nation of individuals; we are a collective. And– and I– I think he believes passionately that this is a collective society, not a– not a society of individuals. And I think he– I think he misreads the American history and American experience quite significantly.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Ohio’s got about a full point under the national unemployment rate. Manufacturing seems to be coming back, to some extent. So if Obama is so antithetical to the values of an entrepreneurial enterprise country why wasn’t it fair to say, well, look at the record. Things are actually better than they’ve been when he took over.
PHILLIP DERROW: The economy was– it was going to go through the cycle the economy was going to go through. The cycle was going to be longer or shorter relative to certain policies. I think the cycle has been significantly longer than it would have otherwise been, given the policies of– of this administration. The fact is that this president and his policies depress entrepreneurial mood. They have a chilling effect on how people feel about the future.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: WHEN IT COMES TO WOOING REPUBLICANS, ROMNEY MAY HAVE THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY SEWN UP. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER LARGE GROUP ABOUT WHICH HE MAY HAVE TO WORRY: THE TEA PARTYERS. 60 % OF THOSE VOTING IN OHIO’S REPUBLICAN PRIMARY LAST SPRING HELD A FAVORABLE OPINION OF THE TEA PARTY — AND IN THE PRIMARY, MANY TEA PARTY GROUPS BACKED RICK SANTORUM. THAT RAISES THE QUESTION, WILL THEY SHOW UP AT THE POLLS THIS FALL FOR MITT ROMNEY? TOM ZAWISTOWSKI IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE OHIO LIBERTY COALITION, AN UMBRELLA GROUP FOR OHIO TEA PARTY ORGANIZATIONS.
TOM ZAWISTOWSKI: The guy was governor of Massachusetts. I mean, that in itself would bring you some concern if you’re a Tea Party person because you know what a liberal state it is.
We would love– wouldn’t it be great to have somebody that people are just so excited about that they’re, you know, just calling– the phones are ringing off the hook and people are volunteering? That’d be terrific. It just, you know, Mitt Romney isn’t really that kind of a personality, you know? He just doesn’t, you know, have that kind of appeal.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: STILL, ZAWISTOWSKI BELIEVES OHIO’S TEA PARTYERS WILL TURN OUT FOR ROMNEY IN LARGE NUMBERS, SO DEEP IS THEIR DISLIKE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA. AND, HE SAYS THERE’S BEEN A SURGE IN ENTHUSIASM AMONG HIS FELLOW TEA PARTYERS NOW THAT ROMNEY HAS CHOSEN A CONSERVATIVE FAVORITE, WISCONSIN CONGRESSMAN PAUL RYAN, AS HIS RUNNING MATE.
TOM ZAWISTOWSKI: Without a doubt, particularly in the Tea Party movement, it all starts with fiscal conservatives. I mean, basically, what scares us most is the debt, the government spending, the size of government. And that’s our biggest concern.
JEFF GREENFIELD: What do you think Romney’s toughest problem would be out here in Ohio?
CHERI HOTTINGER: People unfortunately sometimes associate wealth with not understanding them. He’s not like us and he can’t relate. I think that is heard so I think that could hurt him a little bit.
JOE HALLETT: He needs to somehow connect with voters. He’s– endured a summer of being pummeled by– Obama — Bain Capital and– and refusing to release tax records and offshore accounts and so forth. I think that really has hurt him. I think that’s why we’ve seen him drop in the polls.
WE ASKED CONGRESSMAN PAT TIBERI ABOUT THAT. WHAT SOME SEE AS A NEGATIVE, HE SAID, OTHERS MAY WELL SEE AS A POSITIVE.
PAT TIBERI: I think most ethnic voters, particularly those who’ve worked hard in the steel industry, the construction industry, they don’t envy wealth. In fact, they kind of respect the fact that someone has succeeded.
JEFF GREENFIELD: For a journalistic perspective on the Republican case, I spoke earlier with John Cassidy…for 17 years; he’s been a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, where he’s recently written extensively about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. He also writes frequently about the intersection between politics and economics; and he’s the author of How Markets Fail; the Logic of Economic Calamities.
INTERVIEW WITH JOHN CASSIDY
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THIS WEEK ONLINE…PARTICIPATE IN OUR WEEKLY POLL. THE TOPIC: THE ECONOMY AND THE ELECTION. LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK AND WHY. VISIT PBS.ORG/NEED TO KNOW
JEFF GREENFIELD: Finally…a lot of Ohio Republicans were disappointed when Mitt Romney did not choose Senator Rob Portman as his running mate. There hasn’t been an Ohioan on a national ticket since 1944, when Ohio’s governor, John Bricker, helped Tom Dewey beat FDR there by a fraction of one per cent. Once upon a time Ohio was called “the mother of presidents.” Between 1840 and 1920, eight buckeyes won the White House–all of them Republican (save for William Henry Harrison, elected before there was a Republican party.)
That’s an impressive record of electoral success. But when you look at what happened after they were elected, Senator Portman might be breathing a sigh of relief. It’s a perfect record–of disaster.
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: 1841: WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON GIVES A TWO HOUR INAUGURAL SPEECH WITHOUT HIS OVERCOAT…CONTRACTS PNEUMONIA..DIES A MONTH LATER. THE SHORTEST TENURE OF ANY PRESIDENT.
1868: AFTER HIS ELECTION, CIVIL WAR HERO, ULYSSES S. GRANT, PRESIDES OVER A PRESIDENCY ENMESHED IN THE WORST SERIES OF SCANDALS OF ANY PRESIDENT–(AT LEAST UNTIL WATERGATE).
1876: RUTHERFORD B. HAYES, DESPITE LOSING THE POPULAR VOTE, WINS THE PRESIDENCY THROUGH A BIT OF POLITICAL CHICANERY SO BLATANT THAT MANY REFER TO HIM AS “HIS FRAUDULENCY”. HE DOESN’T EVEN TRY FOR A SECOND TERM.
1881: JAMES A GARFIELD, IS SHOT LESS THAN FOUR MONTHS AFTER HIS INAUGURAL—AND DIES TWO MONTHS LATER AT THE HANDS OF INCOMPETENT DOCTORS…THAT’S THE SECOND SHORTEST TENURE OF ANY PRESIDENT.
1888: BENJAMIN HARRISON (WILLIAM’S GRANDSON) WINS DESPITE LOSING THE POPULAR VOTE, THEN IS DEFEATED FOUR YEARS LATER BY GROVER CLEVELAND IN A RE-MATCH.
1896: OHIO GOVERNOR WILLIAM MCKINKLEY CRUSHES WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN, AND BEATS HIM AGAIN 4 YEARS LATER. BARELY SIX MONTHS INTO THAT SECOND TERM, HE’S SHOT AND KILLED BY A SELF-DESCRIBED ANARCHIST.
1912: WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT IS BARELY RENOMINATED, THEN WINS ONLY 8 ELECTORAL VOTES AFTER BEING CHALLENGED BY HIS PREDECESSOR, TEDDY ROOSEVELT—THE WORST SHOWING OF ANY INCUMBENT.
1920: WARREN HARDING, IS ELECTED IN A LANDSLIDE, BUT DIES IN OFFICE LESS THAN 3 YEARS LATER AS HIS ADMINISTRATION DESCENDS INTO SCANDAL THAT WILL SEND HIS INTERIOR SECRETARY TO JAIL. HE REMAINS RANKED AS ONE OF THE WORST PRESIDENTS EVER.
JEFF GREENFIELD: So don’t feel too sorry about being passed over, Senator Portman. Had you found yourself on a path to the White House, you might have found yourself singing the same refrain as your fellow Buckeyes: “Why O Why O Why O? Why did I ever leave Ohio?”
That’s our broadcast for this week. But you can join us online, anytime, at PBS.org/need to know for more about the critical battle for Ohio. And don’t forget to take part in our weekly poll while you’re there. You can also follow election coverage from our colleagues at other PBS programs by visiting pbs.org/election 2012. Next week, I’ll be hosting again from Tampa; as the GOP convention ends, we’ll be looking at democrats—specifically, how they see their prospects in Ohio. Special thanks to our friends here at WEDU in Tampa for helping us produce this program. See you next week—thank you for watching.