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Obama, Romney Mine For Swing Voters In Ohio

Filed by KOSU News in Politics.
September 28, 2012

Undecided voters in Ohio got a lot of attention this week from President Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney. Coal may be the key to many swing voters in the Buckeye State which remains a top coal producer.

At the pumpkin festival in Barnesville, in southeastern Ohio, judges are weighing pumpkins. And coal miner Rick Carpenter says there’s an issue weighing on his mind.

“Save coal — fire Obama. Yep I got one of those signs in my yard.”

Carpenter says he’s afraid of what will happen to his job if the president is re-elected. The argument is that the administration has hurt the coal industry because of regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“A lot of the people around here were strong Democrats for the longest time,” Carpenter says.

In towns like Barnesville, you can come upon a yard that has signs for multiple Democrats running for office alongside a fire Obama sign.

“The southeast Ohio economy is very much dependent upon coal. There are a lot of coal jobs. It’s really part of the fabric of many of the counties in the southeastern part of the state and has been for generations,” says David Cohen, who teaches political science at the University of Akron.

Cohen says president Obama already has some problems in the region because it’s socially conservative, and then you have worries that he will damage their major industry.

“Most voters are voting on potentially one issue that moves them or their voting on very little information — possibly the last 30 second ad they saw in the campaign,” Cohen adds.

And both campaigns are trying to get the last word.

Here’s a sample of a Romney ad:

“Obama wages war on coal while we lose jobs to China whose using more coal everyday now your job’s in danger.”

And this is an Obama ad:

“Seen these new ads where Mitt Romney says he’s a friend of coal country, this is guy who wants to keep tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas.”

The United Mine Worker of America, the miners’ union, says it won’t endorse either candidate.

And Mike Carey who heads the Ohio Coal Association, an industry group, says Ohio isn’t just a battle ground for the presidency but the future of coal mining.

“It’s a tough market right now, coal prices are going down. If you look at publicly traded coal companies, they’re stock prices are going down, layoffs are everywhere. So it’s battle time in the coal industry. A lot of this is because of policies in this administration,” Carey says.

Many analysts say the problems in the coal industry have more to do with the low price of competitor natural gas than with regulation. But in southeast Ohio coal is the proverbial third rail.

“We don’t need to fire Obama and we don’t need to stop the war on coal,” says Charlie Wilson, the Democrat running for Congress in the Ohio’s 6th Congressional District. He says the one thing he and his opponent Republican Rep. Bill Johnson both agree on is coal.

“Now we have a new gas and oil opportunity in this district, where we’re going to be able to have mega amounts of gas and oil that we’ll be able to pump out of the area. And that’s down under the coal,” Johnson says.

Meanwhile back in Barnsville, Mark Rex says he’s undecided about the presidential race. He says he doesn’t want coal jobs to go away but he also sees a future in natural gas.

“There’s been a lot of jobs. A lot of guys are leaving menial jobs to go to the pipeline to make good money. I’m thinking about leaving my job to go to the pipeline,” Rex says.

A lot is likely to change in the coal and natural gas industries regardless of the outcome of this election. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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