More Ohioans have jobs in the resurgent auto industry because “I refused to turn my back on communities like this one,” President Barack Obama said in July in Maumee, near Chrysler Group LLC’s Toledo Jeep factory.
Last week, the state’s Republican Governor John Kasich claimed credit for rising prosperity. “We are managing our finances and creating jobs,” Kasich said during a speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. His party’s policies led to the best job-creation record in the Midwest even in the face of “headwinds” from Obama, he said.
The economy is the top issue in Ohio, polls show. Which way the state votes may depend on who gets credit for growth in employment, said John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron.
Economic data alone won’t help voters decide between competing explanations from Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, forcing voters to pay more attention to the candidates’ policy positions, Green said.
“It’s likely to make an already close and competitive election even closer and more competitive,” Green said in a telephone interview.
At stake are Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. The battleground state of 11.5 million residents put President George W. Bush over the top for re-election in 2004 and helped elect Obama in 2008. The state is considered a must-win for Romney. No Republican has been elected president without carrying Ohio.
Recent polls have shown Obama with a slight advantage in Ohio before the national political conventions.
After losing almost 557,000 jobs from 2000-2010, Ohio’s economy is improving. The jobless rate in the Buckeye State was 7.2 percent in July, the lowest since September 2008 and below the nationwide 8.3 percent. The 130,600 jobs added in Ohio since the end of 2010 -- including 37,100 in manufacturing -- were the fourth-most in the U.S. and the most among Midwestern states, according to federal data.
Nationwide, Ohio’s improvement in economic health ranks sixth from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter this year, the most recent data available, based on the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States. The barometer reflects mortgage delinquencies, personal income, tax revenue, employment, home prices and value of publicly traded companies.
Obama points to his efforts to spur recovery from the worst contraction since the Great Depression, including the 2009 government bailout of U.S. automakers. He contrasts that with Romney’s call to let auto companies go bankrupt, and a “fundamentally different” economic vision.
Sherry Gaunt, 52, credits Obama for saving her job. She is a material handler at the General Motors Co. auto assembly plant in Lordstown, east of Akron. Her job is on the third shift, added in 2010 to make the Chevrolet Cruze.
“If we did not have the help from the government, we would not be working,” Gaunt said in a telephone interview.
Kasich said Ohio is growing by following policies championed by Romney, such as cutting taxes, streamlining regulations and limiting spending.
Donald Downs, 48, said he is backing Romney because he thinks the economy could do better. He lost his job as a baker in Columbus in 2009.
“I don’t blame Obama for all the economy situation because he inherited a lot of it,” Downs said in an interview. “But I do think that Romney will at least try to put a new face on it, change things around.”