YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dave Betras is known in “The Valley” for his colorful language and his political antics and drama. Last Wednesday, however, when Vice President Joe Biden visited a local industrial park, Betras was all about numbers.
“Oh, the valley is going to turn out big for Barack Obama this year, big!” he said, spreading his arms wide for emphasis. The chairman of Mahoning County’s Democrats pointed to the shipping warehouse of M7 Technologies, a local manufacturer, filled with people waiting to hear Biden speak. “Turn-out like today, a full room,” Betras, 52, said.
If his job is to turn out Obama supporters on Election Day, he may want to check on their allegiances before he buses them to the polls. Many of the Youngstown attendees at Biden’s event do not support him or the president.
Bob McClain and his wife, Myra, went to M7 Technologies to support their friend’s family business. Neither supports the Obama-Biden ticket.
“We are friends of the owners – that is why we came, to show support for the Garvey family,” said McClain. At 71, he’s retired but volunteers full-time as a counselor for Mahoning Valley small-business owners.
“Our vote is going for who is best to lead on the economy. That is Romney, for us,” said Myra as her husband nodded.
Richard Furillo stood with his son Matthew at his son’s place of employment; a lifelong Democrat, he voted for Obama in 2008 but won’t again. “I don't know why I did it but I cannot stand anymore ‘change,’ ” he said, referring to the president’s old campaign slogan.
Father and son both said they attended the event to support the company.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a sitting vice president,” added Matthew, also a Democrat. He, too, said he will vote for Romney.
Standing beside them, Jeff Cunningham echoed their sentiments: “The biggest challenge in this country is creating jobs that last, jobs that sustain families.” The 36-year-old valley native said his vote will be for Romney.
Montgomery “Monty” Deruyter sat several rows from where Biden stood, addressing the crowd. The 43-year-old father of two started working at M7 as a machinist two months ago; uncertainty is driving him to favor Romney.
“I hold both parties at arm’s length but trust Romney’s business skills to lead on the economy,” he said.
They were only five of more than a score of people interviewed who said they will not vote for Obama in November; they were the audience members not captured by TV cameras, who sat respectfully during Biden’s 30-minute populist speech while the party faithful – gathered up and bused in by Betras – leaped up every time Biden’s voice pitched several decibels.
Even then, discontent was voiced among those faithful – and worry that some of the community have no reason to vote for the president next fall.
Joe Louis Teague, 70, a black community icon who has run several failed campaigns for local office, is in charge of coordinating the Obama campaign’s voter registration in the Mahoning Valley. He is worried about the black vote because “people are discouraged.”
Black-on-black crime is out of control; drugs and poor parenting are at the heart of that problem, he said.
“I am going to be honest, I think he could have done more,” he said of the first black president’s attention to the black community. “I think he needs to do more.”
As Biden switched between fiery class-warfare rhetoric and whispers about his upbringing in neighboring Pennsylvania, two things stood out: no mention of coal or Marcellus shale natural gas – the resources that are bringing prosperity back to this region – and his rhetoric about middle-class resentment.
“They don’t get it! They don’t get who we are!” he shouted after one pitch about how Republicans don't understand the little guy in places such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.
That’s an interesting take from Biden, considering Obama's “understanding” of those same gun- and Bible-clinging embittered voters that he famously described at a high-dollar San Francisco fundraiser in 2008.
It probably is why last week’s Quinnipiac poll showed only one percentage point advantage for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the Buckeye State.