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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

First this hour: politics.

The industrial Midwest is a key battleground in the presidential race - that's where both candidates are today. John McCain met with women voters in Wisconsin, while Barack Obama spelled out his energy strategy in Ohio.

The Midwest has the nation's highest unemployment rate, and both candidates have been stressing their plans to boost the economy.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Barack Obama says America needs to wean itself off imported oil — not only for environmental or national security reasons, but also to protect jobs. Obama told an audience in Dayton, Ohio that the planned shutdown of a General Motors plant in nearby Moraine, the cancellation of Continental flights out of Cleveland, and the threatened closure of a cargo facility in Wilmington, Ohio all stem from the high cost of crude oil.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): It gives you some sense of the urgency that we feel when it comes to our economy. And I know that this area - Dayton, Wilmington, these counties and the surrounding areas -have seen some blows.

HORSLEY: Susan Martin didn't need convincing. She's already felt the impact of $4-a-gallon gasoline right here in Dayton.

Ms. SUSAN MARTIN: Oh, the economy stinks but, you know, you have to go to work, so you have to do what you have to do to get there. Right now, I'm car-sharing with another person. But, you know, I couldn't afford to do it if I had to drive myself.

HORSLEY: Obama repeated his promise to invest $15 billion a year in alternative energy sources like wind and solar power, and he vowed to make cars twice as fuel efficient over the next two decades.

Jeff Lies applauded Obama's proposals. He's a Teamster who's already switched his own family to smaller, less gas-guzzling cars.

Mr. JEFF LIES (Teamster): I think energy is going to be one of the key topics of this campaign. I think it was a great place for him to come to an automobile city like Dayton, Ohio and to start off his campaign on energy here in the city.

HORSLEY: John McCain has also been looking for votes in the hard-hit auto sector. Yesterday, McCain held a town hall meeting in Michigan at a plant that makes parts for the Ford Explorer and the F-150.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): America is hurting today. Michigan is hurting today. The automotive industry is hurting. And we've got big problems and we've got big challenges.

HORSLEY: McCain's effort to sound sympathetic was partly undermined, though, by one of his top advisers and campaign co-chairs. Former Texas senator Phil Gramm belittled the slowdown in the Washington Times, calling it merely a mental recession and saying the U.S. has become a nation of whiners.

McCain quickly told reporters Phil Gramm doesn't speak for me.

Sen. McCAIN: The person here in Michigan that just lost his job isn't suffering from a mental recession. I believe the mother here in Michigan, around America who is trying to get enough money to educate their children isn't whining.

HORSLEY: Both McCain and Obama have been focused, in part, on female voters this week. Obama had a 13-point edge with women in a recent Gallup poll. McCain drew very different reactions from two women yesterday when he dropped in on the Senate Coney Island Restaurant in Livonia, Michigan.

Sen. McCAIN: How are you?

Unidentified Man: Good.

Sen. McCAIN: Nice to see you. How are you? Good morning.

HORSLEY: Ida Shelly shook McCain's hand, asked about his sons in the military, and said she'll be doing everything she can to support him.

Ms. IDA SHELLY: Let's say this. My son flies for the Navy. Enough? Yeah. I want somebody in there who knows what he's doing and will help my kid out, mine and thousands of others.

HORSLEY: Shelly had been tipped off that McCain was coming to the restaurant. But Kathy Tyler was just there for the eggs and toast. Tyler won't be voting for McCain in November.

Ms. KATHY TYLER: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Because I think that if he's elected, it will be another four years of George Bush.

HORSLEY: That one small Michigan diner illustrates the close contest in the Midwest, a region that could decide the next president.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Dayton, Ohio.

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