How will Obama's support of gay marriage affect the 2012 election?
A few days after Obama's comments, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman campaigned across the region with Brad Wenstrup, a Republican candidate in the congressional House district that Portman formerly represented. Portman, whose name has been bandied about as a possible running mate for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, opposes same-sex marriage but doesn't think Obama's statement in support of it changes the paramount issues.
"I mean, what people care about is how are we going to turn this economy around and what do you do with these record debts and deficits."
That's still mostly true in a part of Ohio that can sometimes swing in election years.
There are strong Democratic roots in the region but of the "Reagan Democrat" variety, because of views that can lean conservative on both fiscal and cultural issues. Democrat Bill Clinton carried this predominantly white and blue-collar swath of the state both times he ran. But then it became George W. Bush country, and Republican John McCain won over Obama here in 2008.
Paul Hall is the GOP chairman in Brown County, where the double-digit unemployment rate hovers above the national average. He said that while the economy ranks way above gay marriage as an issue, Obama's support of the matter won't help attract votes. "That won't play well here," he said.
Wallingford, the engineer who also serves as head of the Adams County Republican Party, echoes that remark. When Portman and Wenstrup made a stop at the Olde Wayside Inn in West Union, 62-year-old Wallingford wanted to know Wenstrup's views on gay marriage, abortion and guns. (The response: Against, pro-life and all for.)
Wallingford does put such social issues above even the economy in this election, and the gay marriage debate has only bolstered his views and his support of Romney, who opposes same-sex marriage.
"No. 1 for me is the morals of this country," said Wallingford, who believes his friends and neighbors will feel the same. "He (Obama) just lost this county. There's no way."
The bustling campus of Ohio State University in Columbus is where Obama, little more than a week ago, decided to officially kick off his campaign for re-election. It was a nod to the role young voters played in helping him win Ohio in 2008, but also to the importance of getting that vote out again in 2012.
With a robust gay and lesbian community, Columbus last year was recognized as an "up-and-coming gay city" by readers of the website GayCities.com, while OSU was ranked by Newsweek as one of the top 10 most gay-friendly colleges in the United States.
If Obama's evolution on gay marriage was meant, at least in part, to invigorate both young and gay voters, he may have succeeded at least with some.
Student David Achille, 25, last year went to New York to marry his partner, Edward, after Ohio in 2004 passed a referendum banning same-sex marriage. One day last week, Achille was standing inside a jail-like cage on the grassy "Oval" where students hang out, dressed in a firefighter costume to raise "bail" money for the gay men's fraternity Sigma Phi Beta.
He heard about Obama's statement on Facebook, then watched for himself on YouTube. He said it "kind of made me rethink everything."
"I was already an Obama supporter, but then that just kind of sealed the deal. We want the equality. We always want to fight for the gay rights. ... And now we have the president behind our backs."
Alyssa Price, 20, a bisexual woman studying neuroscience and psychology, had a slightly different take. She called Obama's comments "reaffirming," ''sweet," ''touchy-feely," even said she hopes it does turn out more gay voters, especially Log Cabin Republicans. "I think that would be cool." But she was already an Obama supporter and felt no more or less motivated to work on his behalf.
Even Michael Flannagan, a gay student who is the Obama campaign's campus leader at Ohio State, cautioned that students, no matter their sexual orientation, are hardly single-issue voters. "We care about our jobs and our future. We care about the world that's going to be left to us when we take over."
The northern Rust Belt region that includes the Mahoning Valley is as blue as blue can get on the Ohio electoral map. Mahoning County, with Youngstown as the county seat, went almost 63 percent for Obama in 2008. To win Ohio again, Obama needs this slice of the state to turn out strong as much as Romney needs the south.
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