Last Updated:December 1 @ 07:49 am

Barone: With Little to Say, Obama Eats Grits in Rust Belt

By Michael Barone

"A step in the right direction." That's what Barack Obama said in Poland, Ohio, about Friday's Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment report, which showed only 80,000 net new jobs and unemployment remaining at 8.2 percent.

The thought will occur to many, not all of them Obama detractors, that this was at best a baby step. It's not enough to keep up with population growth, much less to restore the low unemployment rates of most of the 1990s and 2000s.

Another thought will occur to professional amateur political strategists: Why did the president's campaign schedule a two-day bus tour of northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to coincide with the day the unemployment numbers were announced?

Sure, Ohio and Pennsylvania are important states politically. They have 18 and 20 electoral votes, and Obama carried them in 2008 with 51 and 54 percent of the votes.

And current polling shows Obama with only 46 percent in Ohio and 47 percent in Pennsylvania when paired against Mitt Romney.

Obama's bus tour was aimed at the historically Democratic Rust Belt territory. Since the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers and United Rubber Workers organized the steel, auto and rubber factories on Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Toledo, this has been prime Democratic territory.

Even in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was winning a 59 to 40 percent landslide, this Rust Belt -- 19 counties of northern and eastern Ohio and 14 counties of western Pennsylvania -- voted 52 to 47 percent for Walter Mondale. It was 12 points more Democratic than the national average.

If these 33 counties had been a single state, they would have cast 19 electoral votes for Mondale, more than doubling the 13 he won from his native Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

In the 1980s, the Rust Belt was still smarting from factory closings and heavy job losses in the recession of the late 1970s. Most of those lost union-wage jobs never came back, and angry laid-off factory workers and their families were unpersuaded by the Reagan campaign's claim that it was "morning in America."

In the years since, the economy of the Rust Belt has changed. The biggest employers in Cleveland and Pittsburgh these days are not steel mills but hospital complexes.

There has been considerable outmigration of young people, and from 1980 to 2010, the population of these 33 counties declined by 7 percent, while the national population increased by 36 percent. If they were a single state, they would have 14 electoral votes, down from 19 three decades ago.

The aging electorate of the Rust Belt remains Democratic, and these counties voted 56 to 42 percent for Barack Obama. But that means that they were only 3 percent more Democratic than the national average.

The polling data suggests that Obama is not running as strong in the Rust Belt counties this year. The bus tour was undoubtedly aimed at pushing his numbers up.

But he seems to have been left with little to say. No wonder he resorted to making jokes about his family and adding, "People've been commenting: I need to gain some weight."

As if to compensate, he ate some grits -- a staple once you get an hour or so south of Washington, but not so much up north.

But what else could he talk about? Certainly not the Environmental Protection Agency's rules shutting down coal-fired electric plants. Nor his decision blocking the Keystone oil pipeline.

He could hail the development of fracking in the region's Marcellus shale natural gas formation in the region, except for the fact that regulators in his administration seem intent on shutting it down.

He could repeat his calls for "investment" in education, but even if you don't regard that as a political payoff to the teacher unions, the dividends are going to be a long time coming in.

And calls for investment in infrastructure may lead people to recall his chuckling admission that there are no shovel-ready projects, thanks to regulatory and legal roadblocks.

The uncomfortable fact is that Obama doesn't have a convincing economic story to tell. The recovery summer promised for 2010 and for 2011 and again for 2012 has yet to arrive.

Obama needs majorities in the Rust Belt counties to carry Ohio and Pennsylvania again. But last week's bus tour shows he's having difficulty in this historically Democratic territory.


Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.



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  1. RWComment by RW
    July 9, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    Grits? Yer eatin’ grits?

    Well, mr. obama, you can kiss my grits!

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  2. lwessonComment by lwesson
    July 9, 2012 @ 10:22 am

    NO mention of the nearly ONE MILLION illegal aliens that Obama, by Royal Decree, graced legality to. Hows that for adding to unemployment to, We the People?

    Of course, there could be a mention of the some 20 million Aliens that reside here, illegally. There is some work place, displacement! Oh, but look away PC people.

    Or, it could be mentioned that the misapplication of the 14th Amendment, adds the magical drop a baby, make a US Citizen, that puts more Aliens into the workforce.

    And NEVER mention all of the Green Card Aliens. Don’t bring light on all of the Aliens going to school here on VISA’s.

    Oh, I forgot, so many Republicans are in on this selling out of America too! ( The Cheeeeap Labor Wing of the GOP. ) No time to think that the NATURAL party for the re-distribution of wealth is the Democrat Party, and that these Aliens have a huge predisposition, and case history of wanting Socialist forced re-distribution of wealth.

    How’s it working out for you, California?

    Rust Belt America Barone? Your slavish devotion to Globalist Trade, has helped shift American Industry to seeing the short term economic advantage of cheap labor, low standards, low environmental standards…, and move to countries like Communist China. Glorious Communist China! Congratulations!


    This is what the Democrats hope for. Hopefully Mitt can see beyond his curiously dumb advisers/handlers, and call an end to this madness!

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  3. BobinmsComment by Bobinms
    July 9, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    80,000 new jobs is great. It will employ the 75,000 legal immigrants per month entering this country.

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    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      July 9, 2012 @ 10:59 am

      NO ONE, dares to break down what the jobs are and who gets them!

      A house went up near our home. I could have used work from this site. But no! Nearly every single individual working there, could NOT speak English. Zip. Nadda. The Foreman, he could speak some. Aliens all.

      The Architects–Builders, now here are the smart fancy pants of the operation. Fine Shining Success Stories, I am sure, in the dying days of The Republic.

      Flat Line America

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  4. rustypatComment by rustypat
    July 9, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

    Of course, those numbers don’t even bother to count the number of people that have been out of work for extended periods of time. The “numbers” assume that if a person has had a job in something like a year, that they must have quit looking for one, so they just “magically” omit them from the numbers being reported as “unemployed”.

    If the real number of unemployed workers, under-employed and “part-time” employed were actually let out from this administration … it would likely be rivaling the depression.

    I know people who have sought work legitimately since Obama took office and STILL haven’t been hired for anything more than temp work.

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  5. rustypatComment by rustypat
    July 9, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

    OOOOOH, we keep adding jobs … more like recycling temp jobs and calling it job creation … numbers rhetoric. To be fair, Obama didn’t create the “rules of unemployment scorecard” … but he sure is hiding behind them, and the longer it’s gone, the more he has to hide.

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    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      July 9, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

      You can watch those who say they are against this Fraud in the White House, play with the same stats once in power.

      The Election Cycle, now here you can listen endlessly about various things, Patriotic hubris, jobs this and that. Will anyone fighting Obama, really talk about all the jobs shipped overseas for short term profit, because it is easy to do so?

      Will, the tens of millions of illegals even be noted?

      To Mitt’s credit, he did say that he wanted to make Communist China play fair. Good luck with that. Donald Trump has had an Epiphany, and supports, supporting Americans, American jobs… . We the People, are more than just WIDGETS to play with. Well, during elections, our votes are needed, and then???

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  6. JDZComment by JDZ
    July 10, 2012 @ 1:10 am

    The Obama administration has been an abysmal failure across the board in my eyes, and in many others who also feel the same way, however, there is a problem. What Obama is doing is all part of the plan to finish the job and tip this country so deep into socialism that it cannot recover. His unbridled borrowing and spending is by design, as is his PR program to expand food stamps, unemployment benefits, and social security disability enrollments. His law breaking “dream act” and catering to Hispanics and illegal immigrants are all part of his efforts to create such a huge population of government dependency that the liberals will take control of government at all levels and bring the conditions in California to the national level.

    The state of California is almost a lost cause due to a liberal takeover that started in the 1970′s and which has slowly screwed up what was once a great state, but no longer. Major cities in California are starting to declare bankruptcy and it is just the beginning of the fall out from major fiscal problems. The state has one of the highest tax structures in the country which is driving companies out taking taxpayers with them. The public union salaries and benefits are a major financially unsustainable cost element at both the local and state level governments and the unions are not cooperating on any substantial changes to their benefit packages.

    So, to deny Obama a second term as President is going to take an unprecedented bonding of American voters of all ages, backgrounds, political affiliation, and ethnic background. We need an awakening to take place in our country to this unparalleled acceleration toward a socialist based entitlement state so that a clear choice by the voters can be made.

    Right now, I woudn’t vote against Obama getting re-elected as so much of the country is politically apathetic or uninformed, and vote from the seat of their pants.

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