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CAMPAIGN 2012: THE BATTLEGROUNDS

Swing state voters wary and restive

September 09, 2012|Alana Semuels; Michael Finnegan; Mitchell Landsberg
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets NASCAR official Corey Richardson during a rain delay before a NASCAR event at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets NASCAR official… (Chris Graythen / Getty Images )

Their party conventions behind them and a two-month sprint for the White House begun, President Obama and Mitt Romney are lavishing attention on a pool of voters in bellwether regions scattered across the nation.

For both candidates, Virginia, Ohio and Nevada play leading roles in any scenario for building an electoral college victory.

In recent days, Times reporters sampled the voter mood in those key states and found some headed one way, some another -- and many both undecided and irked as they contemplated the befuddling question of whom to trust with their country.

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Chesapeake, Va.

All that money -- for the conventions, the ads, the endless calls to voters' homes -- hasn't worked on George Butt. The candidates are running neck and neck in this state, which went to Obama by nearly 6 points in 2008, because of people like Butt.

"They haven't convinced me yet," said Butt, 52, a small-business owner. Each week, he said, something pushes him in one direction or another: There was Romney's awkward exchange with a gay veteran that gave Butt doubts about the Republican nominee -- but then again there was that ad touting Romney's business experience, which seemed convincing.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 12, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 82 words Type of Material: Correction
Swing states: In the Sept. 9 Section A, a chart that accompanied an article about the presidential race in three swing states contained errors in the unemployment rates shown, reversing the figures and mislabeling one of the years covered. In Nevada, the correct unemployment rate was 13.8% in July 2011 and 12.0% in July 2012. In Ohio, it was 8.9% in July 2011 and 7.2 % in July 2012. In Virginia, it was 6.4% in July 2011 and 5.9% in July 2012.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 16, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 82 words Type of Material: Correction
Swing states: In the Sept. 9 Section A, a chart that accompanied an article about the presidential race in three swing states contained errors in the unemployment rates shown, reversing the figures and mislabeling one of the years covered. In Nevada, the correct unemployment rate was 13.8% in July 2011 and 12.0% in July 2012. In Ohio, it was 8.9% in July 2011 and 7.2 % in July 2012. In Virginia, it was 6.4% in July 2011 and 5.9% in July 2012.

"That's why I'm undecided -- I don't know who to believe," added Bruce Kingery, 58, a truck driver who says he, like Butt, wants more information. Kingery, at home on disability after back surgery, has seen his share of television commercials trumpeting each candidate, and he says he can't help but be swayed by them.

Kingery voted for John McCain in 2008 but feels uncomfortable with what he calls Romney's elitism -- for example, his comment that students should borrow money from their parents to start a small business. He wishes the campaigns would take all the money they're spending trying to convince him how to vote and apply it to the deficit.

This city went for Obama by 1 percentage point in 2008, but at the same time it chose a Democratic Senate candidate and a Republican House candidate, both by overwhelming margins, lending some credence to many voters' claims here that they don't vote by party. The precinct near where Kingery and Butt were shopping on a Friday afternoon was even closer in 2008 -- it preferred McCain to Obama by 5 votes.

Chesapeake is just a few miles from the retired battleship Wisconsin, where Romney unveiled Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, and Romney stopped by an adjacent city, Virginia Beach, on Saturday before heading to Richmond for another campaign stop. Obama visited the area in July.

"I'm still listening and trying to figure it out," said Lorraine Baccus, 32, a single mother who said she couldn't watch the conventions because she works night shifts at a 7-Eleven. "Both people are saying that they're going to do something. But how do we know if they're going to come forward?"

One voter may have been swayed last week, but not by Obama or Romney. Flipping through TV channels Wednesday night in search of football, retired salesman Buddy Carawan, 66, saw Bill Clinton on the screen delivering his convention speech. Carawan had been leaning toward Romney, he said, but the former president made a convincing case to reelect Obama.

"I was wavering on Obama because of the economy, but I watched Clinton's speech and he convinced me to give it another shot," Carawan said.

"But maybe that's just because I tend to root for the underdog."

-- Alana Semuels

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Mentor, Ohio

Amy Geszler, an accountant taking a coffee break in this suburb of Cleveland, is so fed up with the campaign and with politics in general that she is inclined to vote in November against every incumbent from Obama on down.

"I'm sick of government," said Geszler, who voted for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush but sat out the 2008 election. "I'm sick of the lack of cooperation. I'm sick of all of it, and it's at the expense of the American people."

Geszler, 50, worries about the stalled economy. But she did not watch a minute of the national party conventions, and she can't stand watching the ferocious attack ads that Obama and Romney have been airing in Ohio for months.

As a swing voter in a swing county of a swing state, Geszler is a prime target of those ads. Yet with the election less than two months away, she -- like many of her Lake County neighbors -- sees little appeal in either candidate.

"I might not vote for the first time since I was 18," said Ryan Stakich, 36, a corrections officer buying food for his three boxers at a Mentor pet shop.

Illegal immigration, Stakich said, seems to be rising in Lake County, but Obama "wants to make all these people legal, just because they're here."

As for Romney, he said, "I'm not a millionaire, and I don't know anyone that is. So how is anything he's going to do help anyone I know?"

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