In Ohio, third-party candidates could tilt election
In Ohio, third-party candidates could tilt election. By Jane Prendergast, The Cincinnati EnquirerShare. Comments. President Obama points to supporters during a campaign rally at Fifth Third Arena in Ohio on Sunday. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images) …
Obama, Romney to make their final case on last day of race
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Obama, Romney rally in battleground states
In the latest in a series on key voters in key states, the Guardian travelled to Ohio to ask five undecided men: which issues are most important to you – and who’s getting your vote?
Larry Bushnell is one of the undecideds, that rarefied group of Americans who have yet to make up their minds whom to back on 6 November and whose vote could decide who holds the world’s most powerful office.
He lives in Ohio, one of the most crucial swing states in the US with its rich crop of 18 electoral college votes. It is often said that as Ohio goes, so goes the US presidency – it has consistently backed the winning candidate in every presidential election bar one since 1944. Within Ohio, Lake County where Bushnell lives is a bellwether, as it consistently cleaves more closely to the statewide voting pattern than anywhere else in the state.
Bushnell has yet another distinction as a voter. He belongs to a demographic group that in modern times Democratic presidential candidates, with Barack Obama as no exception, have struggled to bring on board – white men. In 2008, Obama won just 41% of the total white male vote across the US, a proportion that slumped further to 39% for white men without a college education.
Polls this year show that Mitt Romney has capitalised on the Republican advantage among this demographic in key swing states like Ohio, Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin, bringing his support among non-college educated white men to about 58%. But Romney also knows how high the stakes are in this state – his overall poll rating has trailed behind Obama’s, and though he has made up much ground in the past 10 days he will be all too familiar with the chilling fact that no Republican has won the US presidency without having also won Ohio.
The good news for Obama and Romney is that they still have time to win over Bushnell, a 58-year-old retired manager at a jet engine repairs factory, such is his state of indecision. The bad news is that Bushnell detests both of them.
“I’ve been online checking them out, and I honestly think they both suck. They’ll lie to get your vote,” he said.
Bushnell plumped for Obama in 2008, but is angry that the president has failed, as he sees it, to deliver on his promise of change. He is equally unimpressed by Romney, who he regards a “coward – he keeps on flip-flopping from one thing to the next”.
‘I’ll vote for the guy I think will be better for me’
The Guardian gathered a sample group of five white male voters, Bushnell among them, in this bellwether area within a bellwether state to explore their mood and motivations. Interviewed outside a Home Depot store in Mentor, a small town within Lake County, they also included Roberto Ciora, 57, who has a message that will be pleasing to the Romney camp.
In past presidential elections, Ciora has always voted for a third-party candidate, because he says he’s so disillusioned with both main parties. But for now Romney has his vote, not so much for positive reasons but because he’s the not-Obama candidate.
Ciora, a hospital nurse in Cleveland, says he will vote for Romney as a protest against the president. He doesn’t like Obama’s healthcare reforms – he thinks they will turn America into Canada “where you have to wait months to see a doctor”.
He also distrusts Obama on running the economy. “Obama has no business experience – he’s a lawyer. Romney is a businessman who could get the debt under control.”
Mark Luptak, 39, is leaning towards Romney, though not firmly so. Until recently he ran his own plastering business, but the residential housing market was in such doldrums after the 2008 economic crash that he had to shut it down and take a job in a larger commercial firm.
The home improvement market is as bad as anything he’s seen since the 1980s, and though he voted for Obama in 2008 he has little hope that another four years of his administration will drag it back up. “I don’t know if anything will help right now. The economy is horrible and I don’t think that’s going to change for years.”
The trade union at the construction firm he has joined is prompting him to vote for Obama. But Luptak says he’s minded to swing behind Romney because he thinks a Romney administration would be more friendly to small businesses like the one he used to run.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m a construction worker – I just go with my gut. I’ll vote for the guy I think will be better for me, I’m selfish like that.”
Ready to give Obama another chance
The relative faith of Luptak and Ciora in Romney as the best candidate to run the US economy runs in tune with recent polls which have seen the race tightening over the past two weeks in the wake of Romney’s confident showing, and Obama’s lacklustre one, in the first televised presidential debate on 3 October. Though there is considerable latitude between polls, the Real Clear Politics tracker survey has Obama ahead by just two points in Ohio – a statistical tie.
Obama’s continuing, though slim, edge may have something to do with the fact that his re-election campaign has presented him aggressively as saviour of the American auto industry – a message conveyed by an avalanche of TV adverts served in the state. Ohio’s resurgent car industry, particularly in northern areas of the state like Lake County where parts production factories are concentrated, has added more than 11,000 jobs since June 2009, helping to bring down the jobless rate to 7.2%, well below the national unemployment rate of 7.8%.
John Ferguson, 22, is thinking that he will probably vote for Obama on grounds that the economy, though far from perfect, will be safest in his hands. He works in a fiberglass factory making underground piping. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I got in somewhere,” he said.
He says he is “pretty sure” he’ll vote Obama to give him “another chance. When Obama took over we were billions in debt, and it’s pretty much impossible to swing that around in four years.”
Mark Travis, the fifth member of the group, says he is frustrated and upset by all the political banter this year. But he is firm in his position, having already decided that he will put his cross beside Obama’s name on 6 November.
An entrepreneur, aged 30, Travis said he adheres to many conservative principles but just doesn’t trust Romney or the Republicans to follow through. “The basic truth is that the Republicans don’t deliver on what they promise. Neither do the Democrats, but they are a little more dependable.”
As area nearly ruined by the financial crisis begins to finally recover, politicians are finding undecided voters hard to win over
Poinciana sits in the heart of the vote-rich Interstate-4 corridor where the battle for Florida – and quite possibly the White House itself – will soon be fought. This is the ultimate swing region, in the ultimate swing state, with Latino voters holding their fingers on the scale.
“The I-4 corridor generally is divided; whichever party can capture the voters generally does well,” explains David Colburn, director of the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute on Politics and Society at the University of Florida. “The southeastern part of the state typically votes Democrat, the northern part and significantly the southwest vote Republican.”
Poinciana is a bedroom community of 54,000 residents 20 minutes outside Orlando that started out as a retirement development 40 years ago. But the population here is no longer dominated by older, white retirees. Poinciana went from 65% white in 2000 to 51% Hispanic in 2010. Puerto Ricans make up almost 70% of the community’s Hispanic population with small numbers of Dominicans, Mexicans and Cubans mixed in. These are the voters who could swing the state – if, that is, they show up to the polls.
While Barack Obama can win a second term without a Florida victory, many analysts see no viable path to the White House for Republican challenger Mitt Romney if he loses the Sunshine State. Voters in Puerto Rico tend to favor Democratic candidates over Republican ones, and registration statistics in central Florida reflect this preference.
However, almost a third of Hispanic voters here have no political party preference. It is these voters that Obama and Romney need to woo.
Bush managed to win 52% of the vote in Poinciana in 2004, but Obama captured nearly 60% in 2008. Some think Romney could have swung Poinciana back to red by choosing the Hispanic Florida senator Marco Rubio as his running mate. Rubio won Poinciana in his 2010 bid for the US Senate, fending off both a Democrat and an independent in a contentious election.
But to prevail, Romney will have to overcome the sense of disenfranchisement reflected in low turnout among the region’s Hispanic population over the years. Whereas Puerto Rico enjoys an 80% voter turnout, that number plummets to 17% among Puerto Ricans living in Florida.
“There’s been very little incentive for candidates to get to know the community issues,” Anthony Suarez, a Spanish-language radio host said.
‘The poster child for the financial crisis’
For now, the economy is the top issue on the minds of residents, whether it be concerns over decreased home values or an unemployment rate above the national average. To win votes here, particularly among the politically disenchanted Puerto Rican population, the candidates’ economic message needs to be strong.
“In 2006 we were the fastest-growing development community in the nation with waiting lists for houses and unbelievable growth. But during the 2008 recession Poinciana literally became the poster child for the financial crisis,” resident Keith Laytham said.
The growth was spurred on by a boom in the tourism industry around Orlando in the early 2000s. But people stopped taking expensive vacations when the economy deflated, leaving many of these new Latino arrivals without a job. Many are also under water on their housing, having bought homes at inflated prices that can now not be recouped.
Results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center last year show the median net worth for Hispanic households in Florida dropped by 88% between 2005 and 2009 and the median home value decreased by 72%. Poinciana has some of the highest rates of housing strife in the country – a quarter of its 24,000 homes have fallen into foreclosure in the last four years. “You had people buying $250,000 homes at the height of the boom even though the median income in the county was $28,000,” said Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington.
There are signs that the housing market may be bottoming out. And the unemployment rate in the area is finally moving in the right direction after peaking at 11.5% in January 2010, though it still remains slightly above the national average.
“It’s the regular, working stiffs who are affected when there are cutbacks. The majority of the people here work in the hospitality industry or have construction jobs,” Poinciana resident Roberto Sanchez said.
Sanchez, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, moved to the community eight years ago after losing his job in New Jersey. He was laid off from another construction job at the height of the unemployment crisis but has managed to find work as a quality control technician for an asphalt company.
He is frustrated with the stalled economy. “We don’t think the government represents us. I have issues with both sides – the Democrats because of the unfulfilled promises and the Republicans because it seems they only care about rich, white people.”
Many local Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent feel they are treated as second-class citizens by both parties. “If you go with the Republicans, you’re going to be second class to the Cubans. If you go with the Democrats, you’re going to be second to the African American community,” Suarez said.
Overall, though, Suarez sees a contrast between the two main parties ahead of the presidential election. “Right now the Republicans are doing everything they can to ensure Poinciana stays Democrat and the Democrats are doing everything they can to attract them.”
Danny Sexton, chairman of the Osceola County Republican party, admits that he has a daunting task ahead of him when it comes to engaging Hispanic voters. “If you’re going to win an election in this state, especially from Osceola County south, you’ve got to figure out how you’re gonna appeal to Hispanic voters and independents because Republicans are not going to win if they don’t,” he said.
As chairman of the county’s Republican party, it’s obvious who Sexton is pulling for. But he has his eyes on a longer-term prize.
“I want people in the state party when this election cycle is over to be able to look at Osceola County and say: ‘They got it right, they figured out a way to reach out to an incredibly diverse population, a changing population. A population that 10 years ago looked entirely different than it does today and that we figured out how to appeal to people’s best interest.’”