- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The key to Mitt Romney’s come-from-behind lead in the polls has been his strong stand in defiance of profligate and irresponsible Obama administration polices. On Thursday, the GOP standard-bearer will literally be standing in Defiance — Defiance, Ohio, that is. The Buckeye State is one of the most crucial swing states in this election, and no Republican has ever taken the White House without it. Winning over small towns across middle America is central to Mr. Romney coming out on top on Nov. 6.

Ohio — a farm state dotted with lots of old manufacturing cities — encapsulates the pressing issues on the forefront of voters’ minds across the Midwest. Defiance, population 17,000, doesn’t typically see a lot of political action on the national scale. This year, however, it is a bellwether. With the largest General Motors engine plant in North America, an abundance of farmers and a natural conservatism that comes when there is a church on every corner, the city represents everything that is swinging voters in Mr. Romney’s direction.

President Obama won Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio handily by margins of 10.4, 16.5, 13.9 and 4 points respectively in 2008. That was then. There is a much different story now. The past four years haven’t been good for the Great Lakes region, so all of this hotly contested territory is up for grabs. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday has the incumbent and the challenger tied at 48 percent each in Ohio and within the margin of error in the Badger State. Other polls show Mr. Romney within striking distance in Michigan and Pennsylvania, too.

The Republican surge isn’t hard to figure out. Small towns like Defiance have been hit especially hard by the Great Recession. People in these parts — who tend to cling to their guns and religion and these days have unemployed family members at home — are more motivated than ever to vote, and they aren’t buying into the big-government, anti-Christian policies of the Obama administration. Small businesses like Meek’s Pastry Shop and Bud’s Restaurant are the heart of such communities, and Mr. Obama’s plan to overtax small-business owners and impose regulations that discourage new businesses from starting up aren’t winning him any brownie points.

Mr. Romney’s visit to the Midwest this week reminds that Heartland voters are at the heart of the election. Rustbelt industries live and die by boom-and-bust cycles, meaning the Obama economy has really squeezed the region. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income in Defiance was $44,480 at last tally, which is well below the national average of $51,914. A growing number of high-school graduates in spots like this are choosing the military as their first career for lack of employment options. Folks are patriotic so are proud to do their duty, but there isn’t any choice.

A recent Gallup poll pegged Mr. Romney’s lead over Mr. Obama at 5 points nationally. Increasingly defiant voters are making clear that it’s time for real change.

Abigail Wagner, a native of Defiance, Ohio, is assistant to the editorial page editor of The Washington Times.