SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It's already starting to rain over northern Ohio this past weekend as the outer whirls of Hurricane Sandy approached. Just a few days before the election, people in Reminderville, the village of about 3,000, were concerned about turnout.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Trick or treat.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Trick or treat.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hey, what's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hi.
SIMON: ...in the village Halloween party. People in Ohio usually aren't deterred by sleet and wind, so a couple of hundred parents and children turned out under tents for pizza and candy. The chief of police read out the names of the costume winners.
JEFF BUCK: For girls, I need the bride of Frankenstein, a wicked Bo Peep. For boys, I need the boy in a box, I need the claw.
SIMON: Reminderville is a small village between Akron and Cleveland that's just about at the center of the American political map this season, when both Republicans and Democrats see Ohio as essential to winning the presidency. Reminderville is middle class, mostly white. The recession that staggered Ohio and the rest of the country has gotten a little better here. But some people have lost good jobs, mostly in manufacturing.
Many have had to find low-paying part-time work to pay their bills while hoping for better new jobs to open up. Earlier this week, we sat down with a group of five voters in Reminderville's small, bright municipal hall. There was Caitlen Silversten who's 31. You were expecting another Ohio voter momentarily.
CAITLEN SILVERSTEN: I am. Yes, I'm a mother of almost three. I have two boys, 4 and 2, and then this is a little girl, and I'm a stay-at-home mom.
SIMON: Her husband Mark is the same age and in IT sales. He also owns a bar on Cleveland's west side, which had no electricity this night. He worried about losing a night's receipts. What's the name of the bar in Cleveland?
MARK SILVERSTEN: It's called Time Out Bar.
SIMON: There was also a retired couple.
AL WILLIAMS: I'm Al Williams, a retired school teacher from Mentor, Ohio. Mary and I've been married 20 years and have lived in Reminderville for 19.
SIMON: His wife, Mary Williams, worked for a factory that made small rubber parts for cars and washing machines.
MARY WILLIAMS: We have eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
SIMON: A stocky, friendly-faced man in his mid 30s completed our group. Terry Bowlin is single, drives almost 50 miles several days a week to two clerical jobs. He doesn't have a lot of time for politics.
TERRY BOWLIN: I drive an hour to and from work.
SIMON: What time do you leave the house?
BOWLIN: A quarter till 7:00 in the morning and I generally get home about 10 o'clock at night.
SIMON: Well, what's it like to be the center of attention for these past few weeks? Silverstens?
SILVERSTEN: Well, I think there's pros and cons to it. I think - how I look at it is, I mean, our vote really, really, really matters, you know. Some other states, you might cast a vote and I obviously advocate going out and voting, but, you know, sometimes people might take that vote for granted. But here, you truly feel that your vote really matters. So...
SIMON: Al Williams says all those millions could have been better spent.
WILLIAMS: I think that it might have been better if they'd have donated the money toward the debt that we're in, paid it down and just told the honest facts one or two times, maybe the last two weeks before the election and let that been it. I also think maybe Congress needs to resign and donate their salaries for the next two months to bring the debt down because I don't think they're doing their job right now, either.
SIMON: Terry Bowlin is single, but says he needs two jobs just to keep pace with his debts.
BOWLIN: It hasn't been going great for me. I'm keeping the second job because I have $50,000 worth of school loans that I now have to pay back. And it's kind of scary.
SIMON: Caitlen Silversten says she might have liked to continue working, but it wasn't practical economically.
CAITLEN SILVERSTEN: If I would put my kids - or our kids, sorry - in daycare now, my whole paycheck would go to that, and I'd rather be there.
SIMON: Stay home.
SILVERSTEN: You know, and it's hard, you know, with the economy to get ahead.
SIMON: Does the economy win your vote? Is that the most important issue? Almost everybody is nodding their head. Terry Bowlin?
BOWLIN: For me, definitely, yes, that's the most pressing issue in my life right now so I mean, it has to be pretty much the deciding factor for me.
SIMON: Have you heard an idea that makes you sit up and say, boy, I like that, I'm going to vote for that guy...
SIMON: ...'cause of that.
SIMON: Yeah. What would improve the economy? What would pick it up now, do you think?
SILVERSTEN: Oh, gosh, it's hard to say 'cause we're in so much debt, it's hard to just say what - how to pick it up.
SIMON: Caitlen and Mark Silversten.
SILVERSTEN: I would say that I think is a good idea is the corporate tax rate. I think we need to be more competitive around the world as far as our tax structure for corporations.
SIMON: Let me turn to Al and Mary Williams. Have you heard an economic idea that makes you sit up and say, gee, I like that.
WILLIAMS: Not necessarily. But we can't put all the blame on just the last four years. I'm sorry. The economy was sliding way before that and I know it hasn't gotten better. I'd like to see personally a flat tax for everybody. I think that would be the most fair.
SIMON: Terry Bowlin?
BOWLIN: What I've always wondered is why instead of just pouring money into social programming, why not take that money and give it to small businesses to supplement their payroll so that you can employ these people that claim that they can't find jobs.
SIMON: Al and Mary Williams say these last few weeks of clambering ads and candidates touching down daily in Ohio are lost on them. They've already cast their votes. Mark and Caitlin Silversten said they haven't. But they have made up their mind.
SILVERSTEN: What I looked at is there's been four years of President Obama that we have to look at. And, you know, he promised a lot of things - cutting the deficit in half, keeping the unemployment rate under 8 percent. And it's been over 8 percent pretty much the entire time of his presidency. I guess I want to try something new. I want someone who's had much private sector experience.
SIMON: Al and Mary Williams, you told us that you have voted. So what decided your vote?
WILLIAMS: What decided our vote was because all the name calling, all the blame, when you can't blame one person. Yes, he's president of the United States. There's certain thing he can do because he says so, but there's other things he cannot do on his own.
WILLIAMS: I also feel strongly that Congress has the greater role in the fact that the country is where it is today.
SIMON: Yes, Mark wants to say something.
SILVERSTEN: Yeah, I just wanted to say to their point. If my memory serves me correctly, President Obama had two years with complete Democrat Senate and House of Representatives. And he chose to focus on health care, which is an extremely important issue to everybody. But I think he wasted a year and a half plus spent on instead of focusing like a laser beam on the economy, he focused on health care.
WILLIAMS: The only part of the health care thing - we've talked about rising premiums? We've both experienced ours going down this year.
SIMON: Everyone in our group of citizens said they know Afghanistan, education and Iran are important issues, and that many feel strongly about abortion and abortion rights. In Ohio, where harsh weather is often expected, no one mentioned global warming.
No one said they thought China had robbed jobs from Ohio. No one mentioned President Obama's race or Mitt Romney's religion or cited a single moment or impression from the presidential debates. They knew about many issues, but felt no issue right now is more critical, personal or important than the economy. Terry Bowlin...
BOWLIN: This debate is obviously the reason why I'm still undecided. Because I see both sides and I think both opinions are valid. And I'll say that I voted for President Obama four years ago. He hasn't impressed me enough to say a week from the election that I'm definitely going to vote for him. So at this point I'm still up in the air.
SIMON: Terry, you're the most important man maybe in the country now.
BOWLIN: I say that to myself almost every day.
SIMON: So as our Reminderville voters approach Election Day, you could score two early votes for President Obama, two probables for Mitt Romney and one still undecided. We asked the group to pose for a picture. Terry Bowlin stood in the middle. The Silverstens pulled on one arm and the Williams on the other.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We've got him on this side. Hurry it up. I can't hold him much longer.
SIMON: A 35-year-old man with two jobs, a large debt and anxiety about the future: an undecided Ohio voter who, with a lot of other Ohioans, may hold history in his hands.
Our thanks to Nick Castell of WCPN in Cleveland for help with our story.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: And NPR will have live coverage of Tuesday's elections on many public radio stations across the country. Results from all the races and analysis from NPR's reporters and contributors. And you can find all of our political coverage at our website, npr.org/politics.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.