YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — In the U.S. presidential election, every battleground state is critical. But none is more important in these final days than the Midwestern state of Ohio, where the candidates are in a dead heat. A few years ago, a Democrat like President Obama would cruise to victory in northeastern Ohio. But not anymore.
A bright future awaits Gary McDowell. He's still a teenager, but what he's doing will shield him from Ohio's seven percent unemployment. These welding classes will connect him to a high paying job -- right out of high school.
"I think this is our time to shine right now. We are all in school. We are learning what needs to be done. We'll be out there right in prime time to help with the industry," McDowell said.
That industry is fracking....drilling for natural gas in shale. It's just one of several new job opportunities pumping life into northeastern Ohio. But it wasn't always like this. Haunting reminders of a recession dot the fields.
Ohio’s largest employer, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, used to be here. In 1977, it shut down, creating a domino effect along with other steel mills. Over the next five years, 40,000 people would be out of work.
Now, new steel mills are rising from the rust; V&M Star is building a $650 million plant that will make pipes for fracking.
The hiring boom affects other businesses too.
The General Motors plant is back to three shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, building the Chevrolet Cruze.
President Obama claims credit for saving this plant and the U.S. auto industry with his $50 billion bailout three years ago.
Across the street from GM, this bar should be filled with Obama supporters. True and not so true.
Preston Walker moved to Ohio for a job at the plant. "I’m voting for Obama because he’s the best candidate, not just because what he did for me,” he said
Lisa Griffith assembles the car seats on the Chevy Cruze. She won’t be voting for Obama. Or Romney. “I don’t trust any politican and, if they are good when they go in, they aren’t when they come out,” she said.
Ron Verb has been on the air 28 years in Youngstown, longer than any other radio talk show host in the country.
"This area's always gone Democratic, and people would hold it against the area for years," he said. "They would say, ‘Well, look where you guys are because you always vote in line, you always vote Democratic.’ Well now, I’d like to say to them, look where we are. Take a look where we are.”
Some callers to his show are unconvinced. "I don't know who I'm going to vote for," said one.
As the area begins to prosper, it retains its Democratic roots. But, as it delivers a better future to its youth, it could become a lesson in how economics influences politics.