Ohio Republicans say economy will be key

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 30, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) - The economy and jobs was chosen most often by Ohio Republican delegates as a top presidential campaign issue, a departure from their national counterparts who most often chose fighting terrorism as a priority, according to an Associated Press survey.

A total of 69 of Ohio’s 91 voting convention delegates, or 76 percent, responded to the survey. Asked to choose three issues that should be the president’s top priorities in 2005, the economy/jobs was chosen 38 times, or 56 percent. Fighting terrorism and the situation in Iraq were picked second and third most often, respectively.

Nationally, 63 percent of delegates surveyed most often chose fighting terrorism as a top issue, followed by the economy and Iraq. Seventy-one percent of Democratic delegates surveyed, including 128 from Ohio, chose the economy most often.

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Ohioans attending the Republican National Convention on Sunday said the results made sense because of their Rust Belt state’s lagging behind the economic rebound some other states have seen. Being located in the Midwest also likely influenced the results, some said.

"For Ohio, we have a lot of industrial jobs. We have lost some, so we want to keep it on the upswing and we need to focus on that," said Grace Ramos of Beaver Creek.

As for terrorism, "We don’t see ourselves as targets as much," Ramos said. "It’s important, but when you’re from the Midwest, we don’t have the large, large cities like New York or Washington."

Zach Woodruff, a Whitehall City Council member, said work is an important part of life for Ohioans regardless of political party.

"In Ohio, we really are a state of blue-collar families," he said. "That’s why the economic issue is such an important issue."

Ohio’s major industries are agriculture, auto production, steelmaking and other manufacturing. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services estimates that the state has lost more than 200,000 jobs since President Bush took office. The unemployment rate in July was 6.1 percent, compared to 5.5 percent nationally.

Job losses at manufacturing companies in the battleground state continue to make headlines. This summer, two major employers _ Timken Co. and Hoover Co._ announced cuts could put 2,000 people out of work.

Jan Weir, the Republican mayor of Stark County where the companies are located, is a delegate to the convention. She ranked jobs and the economy as the top issue.

"People tend to judge any situation by their own pocketbook," she said.

But Weir, who’s aiding Bush’s campaign, says the media and Democrats unfairly focus on job losses and ignore job gains at companies like Alliance Castings and MAC Trailer in Stark County, a bellwether which has backed the winning presidential candidate in all but one election since 1960.

Right or wrong, the media’s coverage helps shape issues for voters on all sides, said Melanie Blumberg, a political science professor at California University in Pennsylvania.

"Many newspaper articles and television features about Ohio’s pivotal role in the 2004 presidential election include references to the loss of jobs, specifically the hemorrhaging of the state’s manufacturing base," Blumberg said. "It is highly likely the delegates are reflecting what they read and hear."

She said the candidates’ discussion of the issue has underscored its importance to Ohio voters.

Both Bush’s and Democrat John Kerry’s campaigns have highlighted the economy during their many visits to Ohio, which has 20 electoral votes. No Republican has won the presidency without Ohio, and only two Democrats have done it since 1900 _ Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Bush, who beat Democrat Al Gore 50 percent-46.4 percent in Ohio in 2000, has said his tax cuts are helping turn the state’s economy around. Kerry has blamed Bush’s policies for manufacturing layoffs.

Though not chosen as often as jobs, fighting terrorism was ranked the most important issue by 54 percent of Ohio delegates.