By Tim Jones
Pastor Rick Towe shuns politicking from the pulpit, avoiding any mention of President Obama and Mitt Romney during a recent Sunday sermon at the small Pentecostal church in the southeastern Ohio River town of Kanauga. Yet the battle for the White House always seems to find him.
“I hear more that Obama is a Muslim than Mitt Romney is a Mormon,” Towe said after the service. “My e-mail box is full, mostly from Christians running down Obama.”
In the battleground state of Ohio, the Appalachian foothills stretching from the state’s southern tip to the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania is the land Romney described as the “47 percent,” a region of high dependence on government assistance — jobless pay, food stamps, and aid to the poor.
It’s an area where cultural issues such as gay marriage and abortion and candidates’ biographies override economics and taxes.
“There’s a cynicism about politics and politicians who come down and promise things and then nothing seems to happen,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University in Columbus.
For Romney, southeastern Ohio presents the political flip side of Obama’s challenge to turn out young and minority voters in urban areas. While Ohio mirrors the nation in some major racial and demographic categories and is a presidential bellwether, the counties near the river are 90-plus percent white and the percentage of residents older than 65 is above the state average. Voters here decisively endorsed the candidacies of Republican nominees John McCain and George W. Bush in the previous three elections.
Gallia County, for instance, chose McCain by 62 percent to 36 percent over Obama four years ago. In neighboring Meigs County, McCain won 58 percent to Obama’s 39 percent. Romney must match or exceed those lopsided victories to counter Obama’s advantage in the cities.