Ohio City A Battleground For Obama's Economy Policy Youngstown, Ohio, has become a symbol of hard times and lost jobs. President Obama visited recently, promoting new jobs from his stimulus bill. But the local economy is still hurting, and people are getting weary. That's bad news for Democrats in Ohio this fall.
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Ohio City A Battleground For Obama's Economy Policy

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Ohio City A Battleground For Obama's Economy Policy

Ohio City A Battleground For Obama's Economy Policy

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Youngstown, Ohio, is an iconic American city. Once a center of thriving industry, it's become a symbol of hard times and lost jobs.

President Obama has visited, promoting new jobs from his stimulus bill, but the local economy is still hurting, and people are growing weary. That's bad news for Ohio Democrats running for governor and senator this fall.

NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea reports from Youngstown.

DON GONYEA: President Obama came to Youngstown two weeks ago to visit the V&M Star Steel Plant. The owner is investing $650 million, creating 400 construction and promising 350 permanent jobs.

It was part of a broader pitch the president made to show how the stimulus package is helping in places like Ohio. Still, the jobless rate in this county tops 14 percent, and the recovery still feels a long way off, as the president acknowledged that day.

President BARACK OBAMA: And a lot of people let's just be blunt aren't always real impressed when a governor or a president comes swooping in and talking about the economy because the only headline they want to see is the headline that says you're hired.

GONYEA: Swooping in with the president that day was Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat in a tough re-election fight against former Congressman John Kasich, a Republican. Strickland replaced a very unpopular Republican in office almost four years ago. Now his bid for a second term is a big state referendum on White House economic policies.

Bertram de Souza is the editorial page writer for Youngstown's daily newspaper, The Vindicator. He says Democrats here are not contending with Republicans so much as the high hopes Mr. Obama engendered.

Mr. BERTRAM DE SOUZA (Editorial Page Writer, The Vindicator): Obama came in and the expectations - whether it was media-created, whether it was his own campaign that created it, whether it was his own people - the expectations were so high that this man was going to come in here, and was actually was going to save the world. And, you know, people look around, and they say, you know, what's going on?

GONYEA: Mahoning County, home to Youngstown, is still a Democratic stronghold. President Obama got more than 60 percent of the vote here in 2008, Governor Strickland more than 75 percent in 2006. If Democrats don't do that well here, if they fall below 60 percent, then Republican candidates will carry Ohio. What's so encouraging to Republicans is that their voters are fired up.

Mr. MARK MUNROE (Vice Chairman, Mahoning County Republican Party): Well, this is like nothing that I've ever seen before in my 30 years of messing around with politics, the enthusiasm level, the excitement for our side, for the Republican side.

That's Mark Munroe, the vice chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party, who says a lot of the credit for that goes to President Obama.

Mr. MUNROE: He's been one of our best recruiting tools that we've ever seen, along with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. I made phone calls looking for volunteers, and it used to be like pulling teeth. And now I'll get somebody on the phone, and I'll get a couple of sentences out, and it's like hey, stop right there. Where do I sign up? What do I have to do? Let's go.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to counter that renewed GOP energy. Last night, the Mahoning County Democratic Party re-elected 50-year-old attorney Dave Betras as its chairman.

Mr. DAVE BETRAS (Chairman, Mahoning County Democratic Party): How are you guys doing? Hi, Alice(ph). How's everything in the third ward, honey?

GONYEA: Betras says he's prepared to put the president's record up against Republicans running for governor and U.S. Senate who say the economic stimulus hasn't helped or that the bailout of U.S. automakers wasn't necessary. Betras says the president's actions saved the nearby General Motors Lordstown Assembly Plant and thousands of jobs.

Mr. BETRAS: I mean, if I could enshrine Barack Obama for what he did to the General Motors I would, because that represents the largest single employer around here, and he saved that for us. And these guys would've let it go. They would've let it go to the chopping block.

GONYEA: But jobs saved are rarely as potent in politics as jobs lost, and Ohio has lost 400,000 jobs in the last four years. That's led to a sense of helplessness that may be the Democrats' biggest enemy.

Fifty-seven-year-old Chuck Much(ph) is an unemployed Democrat who voted for President Obama and thinks he's doing a good job. A former steelworker, Much is now laid off from a custodial job. In downtown Youngstown, he says he'll vote for Democrats this year, that is if he votes.

Mr. CHUCK MUCH: The truth is, if I do decide to go in November to vote, and I'm not sure that I will, I don't see any results no matter who's in there, Republican or Democrat. I just don't see anything I don't see -and that's a terrible attitude. I know that.

GONYEA: But it's an attitude that you hear pretty often these days in Mahoning County, Ohio.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Youngstown.

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