POLITICS

How will Obama's support of gay marriage affect the 2012 election?

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Yet the president's comments left some of the Valley's Democratic faithful wondering if he'd lose the blue-collar voters who comprise the base here.

"It's the kind of town that votes Democrat but probably is not in support of gay marriage," says Matt Bins-Castronovo, 38, a workers'compensation lawyer who was born and still lives in Youngstown. He completely agrees with the president's position but was annoyed by the timing, calling it "a silly thing to do at this point."

"I guess I'm looking at it through my isolated Youngstown, Ohio, shell. ... Who am I to judge how people will vote and why, what they deem to be more important than other things? But I do think it'll hurt him somewhat. Maybe not enough to lose, but I don't know."

Down the road in Lordstown, Glenn Johnson is president-elect of United Auto Workers Local 1112, representing employees at the General Motors plant that proudly advertises itself nowadays as "Home of the Cruze." Gay marriage, he said, simply can't trump what matters most to his members: Being able to provide for their families.

The union credits the Obama administration's bailout of the auto industry for revitalizing the Lordstown plant. Workers once laid off were rehired after the plant in 2010 began manufacturing the Chevy Cruze, and today some 4,500 people are employed there.

"If you are what I consider the three Gs - gays, God or guns - this may change your opinion of President Obama," Johnson said. "But if you look at the big picture of what he's done for our industry and for working families of this valley .... then you will do the right thing. The majority of our members are more concerned that they have a job."

The Obama campaign office in downtown Youngstown is papered with signs reflecting that sentiment: "This Valley Runs on Obama Power" and "Autoworkers Can't Trust Romney."

Just north of Youngstown, in one of the few swing counties in northeastern Ohio, a group of friends convened at week's end at a wine bar in a place called Painesville in Lake County.

At one table were four Republicans, at another four Democrats. All had plenty to say about the gay marriage debate, a subject on which they - perhaps surprisingly - found more unity than dissent. These friends, all in their late 60s or 70s, wholeheartedly agreed that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

For them, the issue itself wasn't the issue. Did it recharge some of the Democrats? Margie DeLong, the retired nurse who plans to now campaign harder for Obama, was part of this group. The answer for her was a clear yes. But also for Candace Forest, a Painesville native who lives now in San Francisco and promised: "I will engage more."

The Republicans were instead dismayed by what they considered a political ploy and worried it would move the conversation away from more pressing concerns.

"For now I think there's a whole bloc of people who are going to side with (the president's) 'from the heart decision,'" business owner Don Pomfrey said.

In the end, though, these Democrats and Republicans in a swing county of a swing state found one more point of agreement. As glasses were drained and dinner plans made, they had a final chance to reflect on what they all thought would, in the end, make the difference on Election Day. To them. To Ohio. And, maybe even, to the nation.

They offered up a two-word response, and it had nothing to do with the news of the past week but rather the issue of the times.

Almost in unison they said: "The economy."

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