© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
To contact us with news tips, story ideas or other related information, e-mail newsstaff@ideastream.org.

Campaigns Look to Southern and Southeastern Ohio

As Barack Obama campaigned at a rally about jobs at Shawnee State College in Portsmouth Thursday, Steve Estep stood outside the Kroger's just a few blocks away. Estep makes minimum wage, and wouldn't see his next a paycheck for another five days. After spending $15 on gas, he was down to his last few dollars and trying to figure out how to make it stretch at the grocery store.

Steve Estep: I work at Applebee's. I'm a cook. I wish I had another job. This whole place, it seems like it's going down and down and down.

Many of the factories that once employed residents of this Appalachian Ohio River town in Scioto County have been gone for years. The region has some of the state's highest unemployment numbers. But Southeastern Ohio is also notable for how it votes. Paul Beck is professor of political science at Ohio State University.

Paul Beck: Southeastern Ohio is a swing area. They voted democratic for Ted Strickland a number of times for Congress and then later for governor. Scioto County, itself, gave a slight margin for Bush in the 2004 election. So there are voters there to be gotten.

And the campaigns know that the issue to hit is the economy. Republican John McCain campaigned in Portsmouth in July, talking up his plan to create jobs through investment in alternative power sources. Local resident Estep says his family has always voted Republican, but this year he's not sure he'll even vote. The only thing that could get him to the polls, he says, is if he believed it would help his tight budget.

Estep: I don't think making $8.25 an hour, it's going to matter who wins. If Obama gets it and gas prices go down, it might change my mind to become a Democrat but that might be the only way.

The Obama campaign says they have done more ground work and reached out to more areas across the state than the Kerry campaign did in 2004. But Republican supporters of John McCain say their ground game in Ohio is running strong.

Brenda Willis: Hi, my name is Brenda. I'm a volunteer calling on behalf of the Ohio Republican Party to ask you a few quick questions, do you have a moment?

Around the corner from Obama's Portsmouth rally, Brenda Willis is finishing up a shift of calls to Republican voters encouraging them to vote absentee.

Brenda WIllis: They want to know what they're going to do about the economy and how they are going to lead the country. What kind of values that person has.

In the Democratic primary, towns along Ohio's eastern and southern edges voted heavily for Hillary Clinton. Pundits have wondered if predominantly white voters in the region were struggling with voting for a black man. Governor Ted Strickland has directly addressed the issue of race when he campaigns in Southern Ohio, calling the issue the 'elephant in the room.'

Ted Strickland: I do believe that with the seriousness that we are confronting these economic issues that people are going to be less concerned about the color of a person's skin or where they grew up. They're going to be most concerned about what kind of president will this person be.

Back at the grocery store, 31-year-old Luke Haywood dismissed worries that voters in this predominantly white region were more concerned with race especially now with all the dire economic news.

Luke Haywood: I'd elect a martian, if it means feeding my family. You know what I mean, I don't care about race.

There are more high profile visits scheduled to Southeastern Ohio this week. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was in Belmont County yesterday. Her democratic opponent Joe Biden will visit the same county on Tuesday as part of a two-day tour of the region. Mhari Saito, 90.3.