For Ohio's Crucial Votes, Candidates Must Resolve Economic Concerns

In the must-win battleground of Ohio, jobs and the economy are all the talk.

October 6, 2008, 5:45 PM

Oct. 6, 2008— -- Ohio is facing tough times, having lost 230,000 manufacturing jobs since George Bush became president. With the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, Ohio residents, like the rest of the nation, have one issue on their minds: the economy, the economy, the economy.

In Dayton, General Motors, a major employer in the region, announced Friday that the plant in nearby Moraine, where the automaker built midsize SUVs, is closing.

"Two years ago they wanted 300 and some thousand of our [SUVs]," said Kenny Harris, a father of four, who has worked at the GM plant in Moraine for more than 13 years. "And what has changed in the last two years? The price of gas."

Local workers have seen consumers become more conscious of gas prices, shifting their taste in cars from large SUVs to small, more fuel efficient vehicles.

"People don't look at the sticker price any more," said Joel Morrow, another GM employee in Dayton since 1994. "The first thing they look at is the fuel economy on the vehicle. They'll pay anything that saves them $10 a week. So, they quit buying us."

The automobile industry has been prevalent in parts of Ohio for generations. Many workers have poured their lives into GM, with fathers and grandfathers who worked on the GM lines, as well.

"Before World War II, 100,000 of 200,000 people who lived in the city of Dayton were directly tied to the economic fortunes of General Motors," said John Heitmann, a history professor at the University of Dayton. "With that closing, GM presence is left to a handful of minor suppliers in the area."

With the slumping economy and severe job losses, GM workers have started to look at the election with an economic focus.

Morrow, who started working at the GM plant right out of high school and has been there for 14 years, has consistently voted Republican. This election he changed his mind.

"I will be voting Democratic because I feel like they are for the middle class," Morrow said.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has used economic discontent to his advantage, courting financially stressed voters in the state's hard-hit industrial belt. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, making this state all the more critical for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

But others disagree, citing Obama's relative inexperience with respect to McCain's.

"I'm looking for experience," said Brian Armour, another GM worker, expressing his preference for McCain. "I really don't think what we have available to us in one candidate has the experience the other one does."

"I'm putting country first and voting for Obama," said Harris, borrowing from a McCain slogan.

Harris said that he thinks that Obama is "putting country first" by looking out for the middle class.

And Mike Hughes, who has worked at the plant for 10 years, is still undecided.

"The biggest thing is taxes. That's what will swing my vote," Hughes said. "Who's going to give us the best deal out there to try to turn this economy around?"

Next door to the GM plant, at the Upper Deck Tavern, owner Debbie Miller has seen her revenue drop considerably.

"I'm looking for the next president who's going to help me stay in business," Miller said.

Ohio remains an important swing state: Obama has visited 23 times since clinching his party's nomination; McCain 30 times. The two candidates have broadcast a total of 50,000 television ads in this state. Despite all those visits and all those ads, two local real estate brokers having lunch at the Upper Deck Tavern said the state is still to be won..

"I think that there are still very many undecided voters, and I think if one of them can come up with a few solutions for the economy right now, they will be the winner," Kathy Foland said.

Ohio has voted for the winner of the last 11 presidential elections, making this state a true bellweather state.

"All kind of politicians from both parties have come to Dayton and have always said that they would deal with economic issues, like unemployment, in Ohio and in Dayton," said Heitmann. "And it seems like very little has been done. So, they're here to get votes, but then we don't see them again."

For voters like these who have GM in their blood, to win their votes and maybe the nation, the candidates must first address the economic concerns plaguing Ohio.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events