Will Ohio's economic uptick be a boon for Obama?

By Sharon Cohen

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

That mosaic has helped cement Ohio's reputation as a bellwether. The state has picked the winner in all but two presidential races since World War II. No Republican has lost here and made it to the White House.

This year's contest is particularly intense with both candidates and their running mates making frequent appearances and their campaigns pumping in more than $100 million in TV ads, each side trying to gain momentum. In the last two weeks, several polls have shown Obama opening up a lead; in one survey, it's as high as 10 points.

Much of the focus is on the economy in this state where the jobless rate has dropped from its 10.6 percent recession peak to 7.2 percent in August, which is almost a point below the national average.

That decline, Brock says, complicates matters for the Republican ticket. "Romney wants to paint this picture that the economy is in a ditch and awful and the economy just refuses to play that role," he says.

In fact, Brock says, the state has bounced back more quickly than it did after earlier recessions.

"What's different this time is Ohio has recovered faster than the rest of the nation," he says. "We were quick to get hit, quicker to recover. In the past, we were quick to get hit and slower to recover."

The reason, he says, is many plants with antiquated equipment closed in the last few decades. "The strong survived, the weak disappeared and that left room for newer, stronger type of industries to pop up," Brock explains. "It's almost like a forest growing after a fire. What has grown since is much healthier, so it's recovered quicker."

But not everyone is prospering.

About 10 percent of the state's counties have double-digit unemployment, especially those in long-distressed Appalachian areas of southeastern Ohio. State and local governments are still shedding jobs and Ohio has regained less than 40 percent of the 370,000 jobs lost during the downturn, according to Brent Campbell, an analyst at Moody's Analytics.

The result: continuing anxiety, even among those with a paycheck.

"Uncertainty is what's driving people's emotions right now," says Jason Haas, president of the Akron school board and an Obama supporter. "There's a lot of fear out there — uncertainty that my job is still going to be there in 12 months, that I'm ever going to get a raise again, that my health care's going to go up."

Haas knows some folks think the president should have turned the economy around by now, but he doesn't. "These were the worst economic times since the Great Depression," he says. "I think it's foolhardy to expect that we're going to come out of it in three years," he declares, adding that a relatively small group of Obama backers "maybe had greater expectations than political reality allows."

There's no question, though, Ohio's economy has improved. The question: Why?

Obama and his supporters point to the U.S. auto comeback and a manufacturing rebirth. Republican Gov. John Kasich lauded his own policies in a speech at the GOP convention, noting he'd erased a projected $8 billion deficit without a statewide tax increase and Ohio has moved from 48th to 4th in job creation. His office says 122,500 jobs have been created since he took office in January 2011.

So who's right?

"They both served the state well," says Ned Hill, professor of economic development at Cleveland State University. "The fact is if this wasn't a political season, they'd both be sharing credit. They both played important roles."

Kasich has recruited international food companies and manufacturers, improved the regulatory climate for businesses, taken innovative steps to finance infrastructure and promoted the energy boom that will produce oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids, an industry that already has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, Hill says. "He took it from zero to 100 miles an hour," the professor adds.

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