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Ohio's Rural Voters Play Big Role In Political Contests

Ohio is awash in politics this fall as the Republican party works to hold onto majorities at the statehouse and in congress. Democrats are working just as hard to gain more political clout in Columbus and Washington. While most votes will come from urban and suburban areas on November 7th, rural Ohio counties could play political king-maker, especially in close races.

Somerville, McComb, Logan and Winchester are small dots on the Ohio map. But, in close political contests, these villages and towns, and others like them in rural Ohio can provide a margin of victory or defeat. And, this year, some surveys and a spot check of some likely voters indicates potential political turmoil. "Well I think its time for a change, the way this tax is and everything is just getting ridiculous" Says Larry Blosser. Blosser has lived in Logan, in southeast Ohio, for 63 years. He keeps 16 head of cattle on his 80 acre farm and pays $3,000 annually in property taxes. He says both state and federal politicians are too quick to tax him while giving incentives to promote tourism in the Hocking Hills region. "They're taxing us clear off our property, that's what its coming down to. That's because of tourism, that's all they want down there."

While Blosser wants tax relief, other economic issues are also given voice during this campaign. Ohio Farmer magazine editor, Tim White, says the state's farmers realize that in the past two elections the rural vote has been "very influential" in swinging not only the state of Ohio, but also the nation. White says in past years, the majority rural vote was republican, but this year support for G-O-P candidates is not as solid. "I think farmers are very interested in the political situation and I think that not only the gubernatorial race is very interesting to them but, I think, also the senate race is something the farmers are really keeping a close eye on." Says White.

The senate race pits democratic challenger Sherrod Brown against incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. White says Dewine's stance on international trade should translate into votes, especially among corn and soybean farmers. " His stance on trade has always been very strong. And, of course that's one thing that is really showing up now in that Sherrod Brown has come out openly against NAFTA. Farmers have been very much in support of NAFTA. Farmers export, we export easily one-in-four, one-in-three rows of our soybeans so trade is really big issue for agriculture." Says White

While export of Ohio soybeans might boost Dewine's vote count, export of jobs in rural Ohio provides a political cross-current. Emerson Schroeder of McComb, in northwest Ohio, is preparing to vote for the first time this fall. He's a senior in high school who sees few job or career opportunities in his hometown. And, he knows he's heard a politician speak to the issue. "Jobs going to China, that's like not good. I want to keep them in Ohio. I think somebody said something about that but I'm not sure who it is." Says Schroeder. Its possible Schroeder heard one of Sherrod Brown's campaign ads on job and trade issues. "I want to have places to like go to jobs and stuff after high school so I don't want to have all the jobs going other places. It'd be nice if like they'd all stay in America so we didn't have to have jobs somewhere else, we could have them here."

In the gubernatorial campaign, the political calculus in rural Ohio this year is also different .Ohio Farmer magazine editor White says while Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell can expect votes from loyal party members. Democrat Ted Strickland is benefiting from his rural background. "Farmers are traditionally perhaps more republican and I think they will vote their party lines to some extent. But that said, I think there's strong support in rural Ohio for representative Strickland because of his rural upbringing and the rural stories that he can tell and the sense of trueness that comes out of him when he talks about rural issues." Says White.

But Voter turn-out remains an open question in November, and some rural Ohioans have so far paid little attention to the fall ballot. Evelyn Grooms of Winchester farms 80 acres and raises a dozen head of cattle in Winchester, while Brad Burton of Somerville has both corn and soybeans to harvest yet on his 36-hundred acre Angus beef farm. "I myself, I don't, naw, I don't play the politics game that much myself, (q you see the ads though?) Yeah, I see quite a few ads but I don't play much of the politics game." Says Burton. "We've got geese and poultry, a couple goats and a couple calves tied up I'm breaking to keep." Says Grooms. Grooms adds though she'll study the ballot before November 7th. She works at the polls on election day.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.