MASON, Ohio – The second grade school teacher might have been describing one of her unruly charges. “He seems like a big goofball,” said Rebecca Holt, 54, who stopped long enough in the 100-degree heat outside a Wal-Mart here to describe former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney .
A lifelong Republican who voted for John McCain in the last election, she still hasn’t warmed to the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. “He flip-flops on some issues,” she said. “And from his history he doesn’t look out for the little guy – just the big guy.”
So will she be supporting President Barack Obama in the fall? “I don’t think he’s said what he’ll do (in a second term). Unemployment is still bad. He didn’t create all the jobs he said he would,” she said. But if she had to vote today, whom would she vote for? “I’d have to get in that booth and pray,” she said.
The suburban counties surrounding Cincinnati in Southwest Ohio represent the heart of this swing state’s Republican base. This past weekend, House Speaker John Boehner, who hails from the area, cut the ribbon on another local Romney headquarters. The state’s Republican leaders recognize Romney will have to rack up huge margins here to offset the big Democratic majorities in Cleveland and the Northeast if he is to have any hope of winning a state that is crucial to his presidential hopes.
While the latest polls show the president with a fairly sizable lead in Ohio, which has widened to nine points in recent weeks, it could melt as fast as ice cream in the past week’s oppressive heat if interviews with a range of voters here are any indication. They suggest Romney isn’t the only one battling an enthusiasm gap.
Obama appears to have less support from young voters and potential voters than he did four years ago. Tom Kondash, a 23-year-old college graduate who recently returned to the area after landing a good job with Morris Technologies, a local engineering firm, says he has no plans to vote this year – at least in the presidential race.
“I feel at some point when there’s someone who can make a difference in the White House, I’ll vote for him,” he said as his fiancé, also a recent grad, nodded in agreement. “I don’t think either of these guys can do that.”
Yet it’s not as if young voters like Kondash have become less liberal or less attuned to Obama’s core message. Pressed to mention what issues were important to him, the newly-minted mechanical engineer said “we’re not investing in the right things – like education. My mom’s a teacher and they’re cutting everything. That’s what counts for a society in the long run,” he said.
Obama won this state handily in 2008 largely because of a huge outpouring of young and minority voters. He won Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and its inner-ring suburbs, by 30,000 votes. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry lost the traditionally Republican county by 23,000 votes in 2004.
But local Democratic officials admit they face a more treacherous electoral landscape this time around. “After more than three years in office, Obama has made decisions that have either pleased or displeased a lot of people,” said Caleb Faux, executive director of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. “Also, getting people enthused about throwing the Republican out of the White House isn’t a factor. That makes things much more difficult.”