DAYTON, Ohio — The Obama campaign is counting on the auto-industry bailout to carry the president to a victory in Ohio, but it ultimately may hold little sway with voters across the state who are still out of work and struggling to stay solvent.
The bailout package undoubtedly saved thousands of jobs in places such as Lordstown, Toledo and elsewhere, but in Ohio as a whole, a weak economy and poor job prospects trump the car company rescue.
Mr. Obama “has destroyed this country in the last year. His whole campaign slogan is ‘forward,’ but for the last four years my family has just gone backward,” said Jared Sargent, 21, of Dayton, just after he and his father cast early votes for Mr. Romney.
“I’ve been out of work. … I can’t find a job making more than $8 an hour,” he said. “I’m terrified. If this country keeps going the way it’s been going, I wouldn’t want to bring a kid into this world.”
Like many Ohioans, the Sargents felt the repercussions of the U.S. auto industry’s troubles four years ago, but saw none of the benefits of the bailout. Jared Sargent said his mother was laid off in 2009 from a manufacturing job related to the car industry, a job that was eliminated after General Motors Co. closed its massive facility in nearby Moraine.
Since then, she has struggled to find a job, while her husband, Rick, battles health problems and also remains unemployed.
“His record has shown what it’s shown,” Rick Sargent said of Mr. Obama, as he and Jared sat at a picnic table in downtown Dayton.
“These deficits have got me scared to death,” he said, speaking in hushed tones, while his son spoke of the family’s continued struggle to find work with a mixture of anger and sorrow.
Even the president’s supporters think the auto rescue will take his re-election effort only so far, and that the job market in parts of Ohio remains stagnant.
“I can’t say that [the auto bailout] did much around here. It may have been good for people in other parts of the country, but not so much here,” said Elay Lewis III, 38, of Dayton, a former GM employee who also lost his job after the Moraine plant was shuttered. He cast a vote for Mr. Obama on Wednesday morning, but said the economy has shown him little signs of improvement.
“I do whatever I can to pay the bills,” he said, detailing how he holds down temporary, part-time jobs as a security guard and freelance musician. “Compared to what I was making at GM, now I’m probably making one-third of that.”
Similar stories of hardship can be found throughout Ohio, but there are also many instances of jobs saved through the administration’s continuation of the auto bailout, which began during the Bush administration. An estimated 850,000 Ohio jobs are tied to the car industry, many of which likely would have disappeared if GM and Chrysler LLC went out of business for good.
The Obama camp has latched onto that narrative and continues to tout the auto rescue throughout the state, promoting it in commercials and during campaign stops. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, has done the same, positioning himself as a strong supporter of the bailout and therefore responsible for saving tens of thousands of Ohio jobs.
Both campaigns are focusing hard on Ohio as the state that could decide the election. All four men at the top of the two national tickets were in Ohio for at least part of the day, either Wednesday or Thursday.