The industrial Midwest, with the nation's highest unemployment rate, is a key battleground in the presidential race.
Both candidates spent Friday there. Republican Sen. John McCain met with female voters in Wisconsin, while Democratic Sen. Barack Obama spelled out his energy strategy in Ohio. Both stressed their plans to boost the economy.
Obama says America needs to wean itself off imported oil — not only for environmental or national security reasons, but also to protect jobs.
He told an audience in Dayton that the planned shutdown of a General Motors plant in nearby Moraine, the cancellation of Continental flights out of Cleveland and the threatened closure of a cargo facility in Wilmington all stem from the high cost of crude oil.
"It gives you some sense of the urgency that we feel when it comes to our economy," he said. "I know this area — Dayton, Wilmington, these counties and the surrounding area — have seen some blows, economically."
Voter Susan Martin didn't need convincing. She's already felt the impact of $4 a gallon gasoline in Dayton.
"Oh, the economy stinks, but you have to go to work," she said. "So, you have to do what you have to do to get there. Right now, I'm car-sharing with another person. But I couldn't afford to do it if I had to drive myself."
Obama repeated his promise to invest $15 billion a year in alternative energy sources like wind and solar power. And he vowed to make cars twice as fuel-efficient over the next two decades.
Teamster Jeff Lies applauded Obama's proposals. His family has already switched to smaller cars that eat less gas.
"I think energy is going to be one of the key topics of this campaign," Lies said. He said it was a good idea for Obama to start off his campaign on energy in an automobile city like Dayton.
Sympathizing With Voters
McCain has also been looking for votes in the hard-hit auto sector. On Thursday, he held a town hall meeting at a plant in Michigan that makes parts for the Ford Explorer and the F-150.
"America is hurting today," he said. "Michigan is hurting today. The automotive industry is hurting. We've got big problems, and we've got big challenges."
McCain's effort to sound sympathetic was partly undermined, though, by one of his top advisers and campaign co-chairs — former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm.
In an interview with The Washington Times published Thursday, Gramm belittled the economic slowdown, calling it merely a "mental recession" and saying the U.S. has become "a nation of whiners." McCain quickly told reporters, "Phil Gramm doesn't speak for me."
"The person in Michigan who just lost his job isn't suffering from a 'mental recession,'" McCain said. "I believe the mother here in Michigan or America who's trying to get enough money to educate their children isn't whining."
Wooing Women In The Midwest
Both McCain and Obama have been focused, in part, on female voters this week. Obama had a 13-point edge with women in a recent Gallup poll. McCain drew very different reactions from two women Thursday, when he dropped in on the Senate Coney Island Restaurant in Lavonia, Mich.
Ida Shelly shook McCain's hand, asked about his sons in the military, and said she'll be doing everything she can to support him.
"Let's say this. My son flies for the Navy," she said. "Enough? Yeah. I want someone in there who knows what he's doing and will help my kid out. Mine and thousands of others."
Shelly had been tipped off that McCain was coming to the restaurant. But Kathy Tyler was just there for the eggs and toast. Tyler won't be voting for McCain in November.
"I think if he's elected, it will be another four years of George Bush," Tyler said.
That one small Michigan diner illustrates the close contest in the Midwest, a region that could decide the next president.