COLUMBUS, Ohio — To meet Jamie Grimes and Audrey Daniels is to understand why Democrats are so worried about next month's elections — nationally and in Ohio, a key battleground state that's still struggling with unemployment above 10 percent.
Grimes, 31, voted for President Barack Obama in 2008. Now, with life wearing him down, he's only a "maybe" on whether he'll bother casting a ballot this year.
The white, blue-collar Democrat from Cleveland lost his job of nearly a decade last year when the local Georgia-Pacific plant closed. He's found odd jobs since but nothing stable. If not for his wife's job, they'd lose their home; now they're "barely" hanging on.
"I haven't seen any 'change,'" Grimes said, referring to Obama's campaign theme. "Not for me. It got worse for me."
Daniels, 39, is an African-American woman with a manufacturing job in economically battered Lorain. She'd planned to vote this year but now feels "skeptical" about what difference it can make.
"I'm not as excited as I was two years ago," she said. "All the promises Obama made . . . you see a lot more people out of work and the price of everything going up."
She doesn't think Republicans have the answers, but wonders if they'd cooperate more with Democrats if they shared power. "Maybe they need to get together," she said. "Split it half-and-half."
At Ohio Republican Party headquarters in Columbus, chairman Kevin DeWine keeps a whiteboard behind his desk with five words scribbled in marker: Spending. Taxes. Economy. Deficit. Debt.
"If our candidates aren't talking about one of those five things, then we are off-message," he said. "It's all jobs. . . jobs and the economy.
"In Ohio, you're seeing a swing of a pendulum that is moving much faster than it has in years past," DeWine said of voters' impatience. "You're seeing that swing move as quickly as every two years."
If Republicans next month can win back three to six Ohio congressional seats that Democrats gained in 2006 and 2008, it could secure them the majority they need to take control of the House of Representatives. They're beating up incumbent Democrats for supporting Obama's health care expansion, stimulus and other spending. If the strategy works, Ohio's own Rep. John Boehner would likely become the next speaker of the House of Representatives.
Polling shows Ohio Republicans poised to keep control of the Senate seat held by retiring George Voinovich. Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher lags far behind Republican Rob Portman, a former Ohio congressman and Bush administration official.
If Republicans also can unseat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland — a feat that polls show becoming tougher but still possible — they could do some real damage to Obama's political machine in Ohio ahead of his 2012 re-election campaign. Winning Ohio, as he did in 2008, could be necessary for Obama to win a second term. Strickland faces former Rep. John Kasich, a Republican who's also been a Fox TV personality and a Lehman Brothers official.
Ohio lost around 400,000 jobs since 2007, the Republicans recite.
However, Ohio has been getting a bit of a break in recent months. The 10.1 percent statewide jobless rate is better than the 10.7 percent rate a year ago, and manufacturing jobs are up.
In political terms however, such modest relief may be too little, too late, to redeem the party in power.
"Things in the last few months have picked up in Ohio," said Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck. "But our analyses show that if they only pick up in August and September it's too late. They need to pick up about six months before an election."
Some parts of the state are more resilient than others. Around Columbus, the capital, several voters said things have been stable, or even getting better, during the past two years. In other cities and towns, where steel, auto and housing-related work took a blow, the short-and long-term prognoses seem poor.
One of two Ohioans younger than 30 wants to get out of the state, according to a poll conducted last month by the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research.
Jack Kleinhenz, a Cleveland-based economist, said Ohio is trying to reshape its economy with investments in electric cars, batteries, medical technology and advanced materials. Voters, however, want relief now, and that kind of change "takes a while," he said — as in decades.
In interviews last week across the state, several white, blue-collar Democrats and independents said they may stay home this election, or may vote Republican.
Several young or black or first-time voters who felt swept up in Obama-mania two years ago just don't see the point now. Apathy is always a factor in non-presidential elections. Obama hoped he could change that, but the recession has gotten in the way.
Many Democrats said they're still committed to voting. They blame President George W. Bush's policies for the recession, and say that two years isn't enough time to undo the damage. However, they're pessimistic about November. "If you don't vote, don't complain!" said Anthony Cospy, 46, of Dayton. "But I don't think we're going to win."
Along with the state's Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee is investing major resources and staff in Ohio through its voter mobilization arm, Organizing for America, to boost turnout.
They've turned to the extensive databases they developed in 2008 to urge early voting, which started this week. They're painting Republicans, including Portman and Kasich, as puppets of Wall Street. They're asking Obama loyalists who don't care about this year's races to go to the polls as a favor to the president.
Michelle Anderson, 32, an African-American school teacher, said OFA began calling her a month ago at least once a week, asking her to vote. She said she will.
Obama campaign guru David Plouffe appeared in Ohio this week. Obama will be back in mid-October.
Still, one month out from the elections, Republicans remain bullish.
The tea party movement in Ohio hasn't been strong enough to push out establishment Republicans in nominating contests, as it has in states such as Alaska and Delaware. At the same time, Ohio voters who identify with tea party priorities such as smaller government and lower taxes say they're very motivated to vote against Democrats.
Sue Collins, 43, of Berea, is a mother of five and an independent voter. Her husband took a job as a contractor in Afghanistan nearly two years ago, thinking it would just be for a while. Now, she says, he's "stuck over there because there aren't any jobs to come home to. It's a very difficult situation."
"I feel if we don't have some really dramatic changes that it's only going to get worse," Collins said.
She hears Republicans say they can create jobs and reduce taxes, and it sounds good to her. "I see that the Republican Party is really listening to the people."
Damon Lubinsky, 39, a software programmer and a Republican, said his own prospects feel more stable than they did a couple years ago, and that he doesn't blame Obama for Ohio's problems.
"Ohio's just got this incredible negative momentum that I don't think Obama can really impart any force on. It's going to be really up to Ohio to turn Ohio around."
However, if voters' impatience helps candidates he prefers, Lubinsky said, he'll do his part. "I always vote."
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