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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2012

In search of substance

Once again, Ohio is a battleground. The combatants will not wear the red coats of the British soldiers who laid siege to Fort Meigs in 1813, or the grey uniforms of Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan's Confederate raiders in 1863. Instead, they will wear expensive suits, or loosen the collars and roll up the sleeves of their designer shirts.

But the battle will be nearly as fierce as real war, because Ohio is one of the most important keys to victory in November's presidential election.

The attack ads that have taken the place of debate on substantive issues are gearing up. One ad by President Obama's re-election campaign declares that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have allowed the domestic auto industry to go bankrupt, endangering one in eight Ohio jobs. Another suggests Mr. Romney might not have authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for 9/11.

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At a Euclid, Ohio, campaign event this week, Mr. Romney stood mute as a supporter declared that the President should be tried for treason. GOP television ads claim Mr. Obama spent billions of stimulus dollars to create jobs in foreign countries, and that he's an old-school tax-and-spend liberal.

Such name-calling sessions appeal only to the already converted. Thoughtful Ohio voters who believe that candidates should earn their votes want the nominees to call off the dogs, put away the knives, and talk seriously about how to solve Ohio's and the nation's problems.

Ohio voters want to know whether Mr. Romney has unshakable core beliefs, and what they are. How will his policies create what he calls "good jobs," and what is his definition of a good job? What will happen to poor, elderly, and other vulnerable Americans if he cuts entitlement programs, as his support of the House Republican budget suggests?

Ohioans want Mr. Obama to tell them why he deserves a second term. They want to know when they will share in the recovery everyone talks about but they have not experienced. Why are so many Ohioans still looking for jobs, and what is the President going to do about it?

Voters want to know what the nominees intend to do about the nation's crumbling infrastructure. How will they encourage and support reforms that will make America's public schools again the envy of the world? What will they do to reassert this nation's global leadership in research and development and technological innovation?

How would each candidate balance the future energy needs of the United States against the need to protect the environment and address issues of climate change? How will they answer the economic challenge posed by emerging nations such as China, India, and Brazil?

How will they keep Americans safe from terrorism, yet protect the freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution? How would they stem the flow of illegal immigrants, and what would they do about the millions of undocumented immigrants who live here already?

Ohio voters want policies, not platitudes. They want good-paying jobs, access to high-quality, affordable health care, a reduced national debt, protection from rising college costs, relief from rising gasoline prices, and a thousand other things. They want action, not attack ads.

No candidate has won the presidency without winning Ohio since John F. Kennedy did it in 1960. Polls suggest that Ohio will be just as important this year, and that Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are in a statistical dead heat here.

Both nominees are welcome to return to Ohio, especially if they keep the attack dogs at home. Voters want the candidates to leave behind the warfare of competing sound bites. In the end, substance counts.



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