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Inside Politics

Ohio: A microcosm of the U.S.

By CNN's Richard Quest

The economy is a talking point at the Lorain County Fair.
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WELLINGTON, Ohio (CNN) -- It has been said many times, but repetition does not diminish its importance. In the race for the White House, the state of Ohio has taken on an importance quite out of proportion.

Only a visit to the state really underscores why this is so, and why with its 20 electoral votes, Ohio will define who wins the presidential election.

The reason is Ohio is a microcosm of the entire United States.

The major newspaper, The Plain Dealer, has called it "The Five Ohios," with differing economies and politics.

The northeast for instance, which includes Cleveland, and where the voters traditionally turn democrat.

The Southwest, which is deeply conservative and traditionally votes republican.

And in between, a huge farming belt (where church and family are strong), a desperately poor Appalachia region with the highest concentration of Veterans in the U.S., and a central region which is suburbia personified.

This is America writ small.

My week in Ohio has started in the northeast and in Cleveland.

Interestingly only last week fresh figures from the U.S. government showed it to be the poorest city in America.

More than 30 percent are living below the poverty line here, and the city bristles with abandoned buildings, shops that are closed and an unemployment rate at 10.9 percent.

So it's not surprising that here I have found the economy and the loss of jobs to be the key election issue.

More than 200,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Ohio in the past four years.

Hence the battle against outsourcing abroad (what Lou Dobbs calls Exporting America) is in full flood in Ohio. And just about everyone you speak to has a story of woe.

About 30 miles from Cleveland I visited the Lorain County Fair on its final day. A large agricultural show which also had stock-car racing, demolition derbies and motorcross battles. It was a perfect place hear the stories.

"Everybody is hurting" the man at Sam's Sausage Cart told me. "Jobs are really thin right now. Nobody's got one." It was a refrain I was to hear again and again.

For those in Ohio, used to relatively high-paying, secure jobs, this is a new world.

Sitting outside the children's animal house, a lady gave me her deep concern about jobs going overseas.

She was from the generation where you could graduate from high school and get a good paying factory job. "Those jobs have all gone" she noted.

Now, at first blush, you might have reasonably thought these people would blame the president and the government for these job losses.

Not a bit of it. In a conservative part of the state many were sticking true to Mr. Bush and blaming overseas nations for taking the jobs.

They are also worried about changing presidents in mid term when the country is still involved in the War in Iraq.

"I am going to vote for President Bush" was repeated again and again.

"He may not be the greatest but he's the best we've got right now."

And that proves to be the problem for the democrats in attracting support.

Because if they can't attract support in Ohio at a time when by general agreement things are not doing very well, then gathering support elsewhere will prove to be even more difficult.

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