Far from Wall Street and the ongoing bailout fracas, what matters most to rural voters on the home front?
That's easy, says Cleveland area Republican Steven LaTourette: "Rural, urban, suburb … the number one issue in the state of Ohio is the economy."
Four months ago, it was the War in Iraq. The Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies has been tracking rural counties in Ohio and 12 other battleground states. According to the latest survey, things are indeed different now.
One of the most outspoken critics of the war, Democrat Dennis Kucinich, is right in line with his Republican colleague on this one: "The candidate that connects with farmers on the economics can win the rural vote."
That includes improving access to health care, taking care of aging roads and bridges, and boosting education. Rural areas rely on federal support in particular, says Kucinich, to bolster scant local resources.
So both sides can talk economy until they're blue – or red – in the face. That doesn't mean there’s any one roadmap to victory. LaTourette speaks for Republicans: "Rural voters are also values voters. Economy will trump that a bit, but they're still going to be interested in questions of abortion and faith and guns and things like that."
Kucinich agrees the economy will be the key factor in this election -- though for a different reason: "The ultimate value issue is the value of the dollar: whether people have a job, decent wages, health care, retirement security, can send their kids to decent schools. Those are values. It’s easy to sidetrack people with issues like guns and abortion."
On the economy, the survey shows rural America doesn't have a clear favorite between John McCain and Barack Obama. Pollsters say that means the competition for those votes could be stiffer than ever.
Still, some members of Congress who represent rural areas question whether either candidate will address the concerns of rural voters in a significant way.
Nebraska Republican Lee Terry sees both courting urban and suburban dwellers: "I don't hear language from either candidate that really hits to the heart of the rural voter yet ... They really don't talk about what's happening out on the farms, they aren’'t talking about ranching, they aren't talking about how we increase our markets for our farm products.
The candidates are neck-in-neck in Ohio polls. McCain has a ten-point lead in rural counties nationwide. But on the economy in particular, those same rural voters put him even with Obama. As long as the economy remains front-and-center in rural Ohioans' minds, neither candidate has a lock on winning their hearts ... or their votes.
Created by Bureau Chief and Executive Producer Melinda Wittstock, Capitol News Connection provides insightful, localized coverage of participating stations' congressional delegations.