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Posted by on Mar 3, 2008 in Politics | 17 comments

Unemployment, Underemployment, and Hunger Boosting Obama’s Chances in Ohio

Here in Logan, Ohio, where I’ve served as pastor of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church for four months, concerns about the economy run high. That’s because this town of 6000, nestled in the beautiful Hocking Hills and county seat Hocking County, has been hard hit by a number of plant closings over the past decade. People who once worked decent-paying factory jobs are, in many cases, unemployed or underemployed. A small contingent of the county’s population are transplants or college-educated Hocking County-natives who commute to Columbus, with work locations between forty and sixty minutes away. But others don’t have such options in this area highly dependent on summer and fall tourism and farming.

The consequence: Enormously long lines at local food banks and pantries. Our congregation has become so concerned about the situation, that our members are responding compassionately with increased donations of food and funding for an organization sponsored by the county ministerial association, CHAP (Clearing House Assistance Program). CHAP runs an emergency food assistance program and has recently announced its desire to buttress its rent- and utility-assistance programs.

But the sea of people who arrive for monthly food provided by Second Harvest through the ministry of Smith Chapel, a congregation of the United Methodist Church, provides vivid testimony of the depths of the unemployment and hunger crisis now facing many in our area and in other so-called Rust Belt states like Ohio. Logan and Hocking County were profiled in this piece in The Chicago Tribune and I can vouch for the article’s accuracy.

Politically, the article points out, this crisis is increasing interest in the presidential race, in the Democrats in general, and in Barack Obama in particular. That’s true even here in overwhelmingly white southeastern Ohio, part of southern Ohio, a place where many pundits have speculated that African-American Obama may have a tougher time getting votes.

Anecdotally, I pick up on almost zero concern about or references to Obama’s race among the folks with whom I routinely interact here in Logan and in Columbus, my hometown, a place I visit often these days for hospital visits. And, it should pointed out that Obama’s home state of Illinois, directly west of Ohio, separated only by Indiana, has people in southern Illinois who share many of the same demographic characteristics of southern Ohioans–white, rural, small town, traditional manufacturing communities that have lost industry–and that state has helped vote for Obama in a senatorial primary and election in 2000 and in this year’s presidential primary.

Concerns about the economy will almost trump all other concerns in any given year and in Ohio, that increasingly means that people are taking a look at Obama, even, my conversations show, those folks who have usually voted in the Republican primary.

Why Obama is more the beneficiary of these economic concerns than is his rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, I can only theorize. But it seems to me that throughout this nominating process, we’ve seen that Clinton has a large, loyal base of support within the Democratic Party. It’s composed in part of people who loved her husband, of older women who see a vote for the New York senator as an opportunity to do something historic, and of some of the other older, traditional Democratic loyalists. But in most of the contested primaries this year, Clinton hasn’t seemed able to nudge that base of support up. The frustrating thing for Clinton has been that the more she campaigns in contested states, the more she falls behind. Her level of support, impressive as it is, seems to remain fairly flat.

That’s because Obama has been able not only to excite young people, but also folks within the Democratic Party who are either part of the 48% of the country who themselves say they will never vote for Clinton or who look at Clinton’s high disapproval ratings and, because they want a Democratic victory in the fall, decide to go for the senator from Illinois.

Ohio, demographically, is only slightly older than the rest of the US, but is in most other ways, completely reflective of the rest of the country. That’s why, in recent weeks, with the exception of the always suspect Columbus Dispatch poll, Obama has been gaining among the growing throng of Democratic primary voters in Ohio, while Clinton’s numbers has gone nowhere. (The Dispatch poll is dependent on mailed-in poll responses. While the poll takes a larger sampling of voters than other polls, it hasn’t always been reliable. Presently, the Dispatch poll shows Clinton beating Obama rather handily in Ohio. Other polls are almost unanimously telling a different tale.)

Ohio, with its large union vote, may still give a win to Clinton, who in many ways, is seen as the more traditional candidate of the two remaining Democratic contenders. But if that happens, it won’t be a comforting vote for her. Most polls in Ohio show her margin of victory being within the usual 2-to-4% margin of error.

Like Bill Clinton, I believe that Hillary Clinton must win in both Ohio and Texas in order to remain credibly in this race. The impact of eleven consecutive Obama wins cannot be blunted by anything less than convincing Clinton victories in these two states. With an almost certain loss in the Lone Star state and a probable win or loss by a small margin of victory here, I expect Hillary Clinton to withdraw within days.

For several years now, I’ve been saying that 2008 was the Democrats to lose. But when I first said that, I thought that the central issue of the campaign would be the war in Iraq. With Iraq at least temporarily mollified by the surge and the ten-dollar-a-week payoffs to that country’s once-pervasively violent Sunni population, the war has been taken off the front pages of our collective consciousness. The economy, at present, is the biggest issue of 2008. That issue favors the Democrats in places like Hocking County, as well as in the heavily industrialized northern Ohio cities of Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Canton, and Toledo. And it favors them even more pervasively than the war, an issue with many attendant ambiguities for the Dems. That’s because even Democrats and Republicans opposed to the war question leaving Iraq precipitately and stew over the ability of either Clinton or Obama to deal with national security issues.

Obama seems better able to communicate empathy and hope to people concerned about the economy here in Ohio, where our unemployment rate is one point higher than that of the country as a whole. That may be enough to give him an Ohio victory and, therefore, the Democratic nomination.

But however things go politically this year, while governments wrestle with the demands of shifting world economies and how to deal with those realities in a long-term way, churches and other concerned groups of people, will need to find more ways to deal compassionately and creatively with the plight of hungry, unemployed, and underemployed people. It’s one of our biggest challenges these days.

[This piece is being cross-posted at my personal blog.]

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  • superdestroyer

    But what policy initiatives would benefit the old industrial belt in Ohio. Do you think that Ohio would become a center for green industries? Do you think that Ohio would benefit from Web 2.0?

    How will increasing wages without matching productivity gains along with government mandate job benefits (expanding family medical leave act and expanding unions) going to create private sector jobs in Ohio?

    The policies that Senator Obama is supporting would encourage more job growth in Georgia or Texas before Ohio.

  • MJDaniels53

    sd:
    You’re acting as if I was a supporter of Obama. I’ve indicated support for no one. I’m only observing what’s going on in Ohio.

    You raise questions that the Obama campaign should answer.

    Mark

  • MJDaniels53

    Also sd:
    Why do you think that Texas would benefit more than Ohio. Columbus, for example, is a Sunbelt City set in the Midwest, a major research center, because of both The Ohio State University, largest university in the country, and Battelle Memorial Institute. Columbus is also a major center of entrepreneurial innovation and a major banking and insurance center.

    Don’t mess with Ohio!

    Mark

  • superdestroyer

    You stated that the issues favor Senator Obama. I want to know how Senator Obama’s economic policy proposals would benefit Ohio and thus get many people to support him.

    The real question for a city like Cleveland is whether any of Senator obama’s proposals would get Case Western Reserve Students to stay in the Cleveland Area and start new businesses. I do not see it.

  • superdestroyer

    Texas, Georgia, and Alabama would benefit more from a green manufacturing pitch because they are right to work states. That is why jobs have moved there. If the green manufacturing/green products push is really national, then states with lower taxes and lower employment taxes win.

    All large states have research universities. All large states have research center. The question is how have the better business climate and how has the better standard of living.

    How many Ohio State University graduates would want to move to Youngstown to start a new business? Probably very few.

  • Mark — As someone who was born in Ohio (and whose family goes back many many generations there), who now lives in Texas, I admit to great sorrow for your state, while simultaneously being appreciative of where I’m currently living.

    Directly related to that: can you share your thoughts about this piece in the WSJ?

    Texas v. Ohio

  • MJDaniels53

    sd:
    What I tried to say is that economic issues favor Democrats this year, simply because people blame incumbents and Obama seems to be exciting greater support because he conveys greater empathy and hope than Clinton. That appears to be how people are receiving his campaign.

    Voters pay very little attention to what candidates actually say about issues.

    Mark

  • DLS

    What’s true about Ohio is true about New York (including in Upstate which is one of the places where I have lived) and about Michigan, the subject of remarks I have made in the past that generated a thread by T-Steel.

    Look at where the growth has been since the 1970s and especially since the 1980s, which defines the modern or contemporary era and how things actually are. UAW types are dinosaurs, living in the past. Their past is as dead as the old Soviet Union (in fact, many parts of the Rust Belt resemble failed Communist era facilities). The US auto industry is thriving — just not in Ohio or Michigan, but in the southeastern USA.

    If you were going to create or locate a new business, or a franchise, where would you? Which places have been and promise more than ever in the future to be growing, and which are stagnant when not in outright decline?

    And why? First and foremost, it’s the politics and the political economies of these places. Too often, Blue Nation is Cyanide Nation, exhibiting economic as well as cultural and political death. (Not every place can afford, much less expect, to be a botiquey Boulder or an Austin in the Northeast and Midwest..)

    All this, and the public in this country is also relocating south and west for a better physical climate as it ages. It is especially imperative on the Snow Belt (and Ohio is in the Snow Belt) to correct its past political and economic errors in order to compete with the places that offer superior natural amenities and are more attractive to people — and to businesses — for political and economic reasons. The older Snow Belt (or “Rust Belt”) has to do _even better_ than it otherwise must because of this. (And I’m tough enough to withstand Upstate and Iowa winters, and perhaps it’s just one of the medications I’m taking that can make me more susceptible than normal to cold, but — this winter has been substantial in Iowa, and with more ice and snow today and 40 mph winds out of the north: “Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend to-morrow …”

  • DLS

    Columbus is a Snow Belt city. It most closely resembles not Atlanta, but Philadelphia, as you drive through it.

  • DLS

    “whether any of Senator obama’s proposals would get Case Western Reserve Students to stay in the Cleveland Area and start new businesses”

    SD, Cleveland is something of an exception because there are some nice spots in town. I always enjoy visiting Cleveland when I’m am driving by (between Iowa and Upstate NY or to the coastal Northeast and back) and visiting nearby Lakewood.

    There’s an old waterfront-and-warehouse, loft-style district that is “hip” and could attract a few of those students. Not many, but a definite fraction, it seems to me.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    My goodness, how many of the bloggers here are from Ohio?

  • superdestroyer

    DLS,

    In regards to CWSU, I was thanking of the problem that many rust belts have good universities (Carnegie-Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Washington University of St Louis) that should be the sort of places that are turning out high tech entrepreneurs. However, the cities that they are in are do not have good business climates or the type of atmosphere that would cause young entrepreneurs to want to stay in the rust belt cities.

  • DLS

    “Carnegie-Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Washington University of St Louis”

    St. Louis, one place I’ve lived, is an interesting case. It’s a Southern city that long ago became Yankee-fied (in large part from immigrants). Most consider it to be Midwestern and in the interior of the country — I used to joke about its name being Yugosibirsk (“South Siberia City”). It already has a good academic reputation (I’m moved to return there for health care research-related benefits as well as for a large number of other reasons) has a good telecommunications infrastructure in at least some places (Pete Abel no doubt knows this much better than I), and already has been the dream of many in forming there the biotechnological equivalent of Silicon Valley.

    Pittsburgh is more authentically Snow Beltish and Rust Beltish — though it is no more all stereotypical than is Cleveland, Ohio) — and is a city that I would consider as an alternative someday to St. Louis (again including for health care reasons). Those who have been to both cities know that Pittsburgh is effectively the sister city in this country to Portland, Oregon (multiple-river junction, famous for bridges, skyline with hills behind it, even a tunnel to the west in both cities on the same US highway). CMU is famous for its computer science history and reputation.

    I believe what’s needed here is a struggle for these older areas to rid themselves of the outmoded, failed liberal politics and agenda items of years (indeed, decades) past. (And the last thing that can be concluded is that what was done in those decades didn’t go “far” leftward “enough”!) They’re already at quite a normal disadvantage climatically and with older structures and such versus the so-often-all-new-appearing development in the Sun Belt. (Not all the older buildings are gems architecturally; there are few true adherents of Newark-style “gritty city” locations.) Many of these places (in flat to rolling interior territory) away from the Great Lakes claim no attractive natural amenities, in addition to having climates that more and more people reject. (This is despite the fun you can have in winter and that places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh have their appealing elements; the latter city wasn’t a fluke for having been named best-quality-of-life city at least one year by an organization that rated it.)

    “do not have good business climates or the type of atmosphere”

    Agreed. I believe that these cities have to try _even harder_ to correct these climate and atmosphere problems to get people to vote with their feet and their payrolls for them, than they otherwise would because they also face other disadvantages.

  • DLS

    For the record, I’m not from Ohio, though I have visited there frequently (from Wapakoneta to Marietta and all the other better-known places).

  • DLS

    There was a (righty) site I used to glean for figures when I was in Upstate New York.

    What is true about it also applies to Ohio and other Dem-dominant manufacturing areas.

    Look at page 9 (actual) (figure 5) of this document for an illustration of what has been happening in the Rust Belt. Now look at figures 1 and to in order to see what a difference it is in the newer, growing parts of the country.

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/2003/censusbook.pdf

    Also see:

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/JustTheFacts.html

    And:

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/2002/pharmstate2002.pdf

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/2002/manuf2002.pdf

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/2004/upstate_taxes04.pdf

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/2004/economy04.pdf

    http://www.ppinys.org/reports/appalachia.pdf

    http://www.ppinys.org/nyecon/benchmarkNYS.pdf

    http://www.ppinys.org/bulb.pdf

  • MJDaniels53

    Ohio is not a Dem-dominant manufacturing center. It is a swing state. The northeast is more Dem-dominant, the southwest is overwhelmingly Republican, and the central part of the state is a swing area. Rural northwestern Ohio is Republican. Southeastern Ohio, also preponderantly rural, is a swing area.

    Mark

  • DLS

    “Ohio is not a Dem-dominant manufacturing center. It is a swing state.”

    The manufacturing cities are definitely old-fashioned Democratic, though. No argument on swing-state nature and the state-wide electorate being very, very representative of the USA overall. The Clinton-Obama contest this year is not ordinary, but Ohio typically plays a very important role and if you have the time, you can find one or more papers and news articles that make the words “Ohio” and “pivotal” a natural pair.

    Also, if you reviewed the reports at the links I provided, you’ll find there are places in worse shape than Ohio (again, colored by Dem manufacturing stereotype).

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