Many in Hancock County village still undecided on election.
A barn painted for Ohio's bicentennial stands just outside Arcadia. With Ohio widely considered a swing state, politicians from both parties are campaigning hard to influence voters in small towns as the November election draws nearer.
One in a series
Members of the Arcadia football team head back to the field after a break in practice. The Arcadia elementary, middle and high school grades are housed in one building. With 71 total faculty and staff, the schools are the largest employer.
ARCADIA, Ohio — Teresa Margraf can answer almost any question about Arcadia.
What happened when. Where something is. If it concerns this village of 590 people, Mrs. Margraf responds with swiftness and certainty.
But one question stops her cold: Who gets her vote for president?
“I’m not exactly positive I’ve made up my mind,” she said. “You want to be like Switzerland for just a little bit longer.”
Mrs. Margraf, 60, is the village’s utility clerk. She and her husband, Jim, graduated from Arcadia High School, where their three children also attended. Her sister married Mr. Margraf’s brother. Arcadia is that kind of place.
The village defines the lives of even those outside its tight boundaries. Students travel miles to go to school here; farmers meet over morning coffee at Kathy’s Korner Restaurant, an Arcadia cornerstone.
The Hancock County community, located amid farmland between Findlay and Fostoria, feels far removed from Toledo though it’s only about 50 miles south. But Arcadians face the same issues as many Americans. Parents want better lives for their children. Some cling to jobs, others to their faith. It’s a village that values its traditions.
Michael Tong, 18, stands atop one of his family's tractors on the family's farm in Arcadia.
By the numbers
Here are a few revealing numbers regarding Arcadia:
One stoplight, where its green-to-red reflection lights the diner’s windows.
Two train tracks, railroad lines still in use.
Three area churches, Lutheran, Methodist, and Church of God congregations.
Then there’s the number that matters most in November: 419. That’s how many registered voters live in the village proper; it’s how many minds Barack Obama and Mitt Romney want to sway in this small map speck in a big swing state.
Domestic issues topped the list of some Arcadians’ concerns.
Locals cited national debt, jobs, poverty, health care, and abortion, among other topics, as determining factors in their presidential picks.
The conclusions some regional residents reach, however, defy easy stereotypes. There’s Dan Althaus, the politically torn Arcadia public school teacher who likely will vote for Mr. Romney because of his stance against abortion, even though he agrees more with Democrats’ positions on health care and Mr. Obama’s educational principles. Or consider the Rev. D.J. Dent, pastor of a roughly 70-member local church. He voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and probably will do so again because of how the President regards the poor and supports gay rights.
ABOUT THE VILLAGE
Founded in: 1855
Average age: 35
Major employers: Arcadia Local Schools, RPM Carbide Die
Registered Democrats: 71
Registered Republicans: 128
Registered Independents: 220
Median household income: $41,389
How it voted: In 2008, Republican John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama 504 to 310 in Washington Township which includes Arcadia voters.
Arcadia tilts Republican, said the teacher and pastor, both of whom work in but live outside the village. Republicans outnumber Democrats 128 to 71. The remaining 220 voters registered as nonpartisan.
In 2008, 60 percent of Washington Township voters, which includes Arcadia, voted for Republican John McCain over Mr. Obama. Last year, more township voters said no to Issue 2, a referendum on limiting public workers’ collective bargaining rights.
Signs for Mr. Romney outnumber his opponent’s in Arcadia, but the village isn’t plastered with political placards.
Verne Snyder, mayor from 1974 to 2003, allowed campaigners to place a Romney sign near his yellow-shuttered 1908 house. He’ll probably vote for the Republican candidate but thinks the village is split “pretty close” politically.
Mr. Snyder, 75, compiled a book chronicling Arcadia’s history through old photographs and village council meeting minutes. He was born in a house about a block from where he lives and spent his life here, except for a few years overseas with the Marine Corps and time away for college studies.
The past filters his perspective on the future.
Political compromise is rare now. He’s not certain a president can change the country, at least not immediately.
Arcadia is different, too. The village thrived when he was a boy, and more merchants were in business. Mr. Snyder no longer knows everyone in town.
“I’ve lived in the best of times. I really can honestly say that,” he said.
Arcadia, population 590, sits between Findlay and Fostoria in Hancock County. Republicans outnumber Democrats, but there's a wide variety of opinions.
Town’s ‘living room’
Arcadia Local Schools acts as the village living room, the place “everyone sees,” the spot “everybody comes to.”
That’s how Eric Metcalfe, a parent and school board vice president, described its role. The district encompasses 61 square miles, but it’s Arcadia’s heart.
The buildings house 633 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade on one site. About 170 to 180 students who live outside district boundaries apply through open enrollment; this year, the school had room for 119 and turned dozens away.
Superintendent Laurie Walles credited the school’s academic reputation and small setting for the high interest. Graduation rates hover near perfect and most students continue to two or four-year colleges.
Personalized attention is evident in Mr. Althaus’ government class. The 41-year-old teacher commutes from Bluffton to Arcadia, making the 35-minute drive from home to a classroom decorated with presidential campaign posters. It’s fun to teach government during campaign season.
Michael Tong, 18, is among the seniors who will elect a president for the first time. He supported Rick Santorum in the Republican primary and now backs Mr. Romney because of his “appreciation for working people” and concerns about job creation, taxes, and regulations. Mr. Tong’s family grows grain within sight of Arcadia’s water tower, and he plans to join that farming tradition as the third generation.
“We don’t want to be over-regulated,” he said. “There are regulations that are necessary, but I’m just afraid that Obama will go overboard on it.”
The President is too liberal, Mr. Tong said, also knocking his “inability to work across the aisle.”
After class, Mr. Althaus sat behind his desk, notes from the day’s lessons scrawled on a board behind him. Energetic and quick with a quip, he’s the teacher with whom students stop to chat. Many pester him about who he’ll vote for, but his policy is to reveal the answer (likely Mr. Romney) after the election. Besides, the full response about who and what he supports is complicated.
He voted twice for Bill Clinton and twice for George W. Bush. He thinks government should provide health-care access but is a fiscal conservative disappointed by how both parties ran up debt. The abortion issue pushed him into Republicans’ camp this election, but he’s not thrilled with his presidential choices.
The Rev. D.J. Dent, of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arcadia, holds his daughter, Grace, 4, at the church's daycare center.
Church and village
On Election Day, villagers cast ballots at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The central location near the school makes it a convenient spiritual and social gathering spot. A strong church-village connection survives, even though some said more graying heads occupy pews.
Eighty to 90 percent of Arcadia elementary students go to released-time religious education at Trinity. A typical lesson includes Bible stories, songs, and teachings, Pastor Dent said. The school does not fund the program, and parents opt children into the “enrichment” offering held most Fridays during the school year.
Trinity offers preschool and day care for about 50 children. The Lutheran and Methodist churches also recently launched a meal program to feed elementary students over the weekends. Many poor families live in the area, Pastor Dent said.
Poverty ranks as his key issue in this election and a main reason he plans to vote for Mr. Obama. Pastor Dent, 31, led the Arcadia church for four years, but Nov. 11 is his last Sunday here. He and his family are moving to serve a Colorado church.
Mr. Obama wants to focus “energy and money” to improve conditions for the needy, Pastor Dent said.
“I could sit here and quote Bible about why both candidates have their views that they do, and Romney is sort of in that camp of, you know, ‘you’ll always have the poor with you,’ Jesus says... . They are going to be there, let’s move and just kind of bring them along. Whereas Obama — it’s ... where he gets blamed for being a socialist,” he said.
Pastor Dent also listed gay rights as a priority. He thinks the legal standings and other benefits available to heterosexual couples should extend to same-sex couples.
Dan Althaus goes over the Bill of Rights with his students in senior government class. In this election he says he's especially concerned about the country's finances.
Faith factors in others’ votes, but religious concerns aren’t what’s considered.
Lynn Nye supports Mr. Romney, citing her anti-abortion stance stemming from her Catholic faith plus small-business issues. Mrs. Nye lives in New Riegel, about 15 miles from the Arcadia Superette she has owned for 18 years. The village store sells beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets as well as snacks and staples from frozen food to motor oil. She thinks Mr. Romney can help fix the economy, and she worries as an employer about Mr. Obama’s health-care law.
In the yard of a teal house across from Arcadia’s four-pump gas station, Sue Myers displays signs touting GOP candidates and one that reads, “Protect religious freedom.” Her big concern, and the reason she backs Mr. Romney, is wasteful government spending. But Mrs. Myers also is troubled by faith’s eroding presence in the country. She thinks schools should teach both evolution and creationism, and students should recite the Pledge of Allegiance and be able to pray in school.
“I think those things are good foundations for citizenship to be taught in our schools, and it frustrates me that we pay taxes and fund our schools but anything that has to do with developing moral character and fiber is out the window,” she said.
Work and jobs
A hushed neighborhood surrounds RPM Carbide Die, but inside the specialty tool-and-die shop, machines hum.
Mr. Metcalfe, the school board vice president, owns RPM, which employs about 40 and is one of the village’s largest workplaces. It counts clients in the automotive, aerospace, medical, defense, and packaging industries, and that diversity helped keep the company afloat during the recession.
Still, during the downturn it got stung. Beginning in 2009, RPM cut workers from 50 to 60 hours a week to 32. A couple of employees retired, and an apprentice was laid off. The slump lasted until mid-2010. Now, orders have picked up, and Mr. Metcalfe said he’s begging employees to work longer hours and wants to hire skilled workers.
The county is poised for a manufacturing comeback, he said, but he worries about the impact of new health-care laws. He suspects it’s going to cost him more.
Ex-Arcadia Mayor Verne Snyder, 75, reminisces about the village, 'I've lived in the best of times.' He says he's an independent but will be voting for Mitt Romney.
The deficit bothers him too, and he wishes government made more effort to bring those laid off back to work instead of extending unemployment benefits.
Mr. Metcalfe, an independent, backed Mr. McCain in 2008 and leans toward Mr. Romney this election. Policies enacted during the last four years, he said, “appear to be bankrupting” the country.
“If I ran my company like the government’s running our country, you know, I would be out of business,” he said.
Across the village, an Obama sign stands in Daisy Lucas’ front yard. Ms. Lucas, 35, graduated from Arcadia High School, left the village, then returned so her son could attend Arcadia schools.
She’s a laborer at Continental Structural Plastics in North Baltimore and sits on her union’s bargaining committee. The plant’s business has been slow and workers uncertain of its fate for years, she said, but she hung on to her job amid layoffs.
She’s sure of her vote for Mr. Obama.
“He supports labor,” she said. “If we don’t have jobs here, then we have nothing.”
She campaigned door-to-door for the President in 2008 but is turned off by the negativity this time.
“I’m just tired of the childish stuff,” she said of both candidates. “I’ll be glad when this election is over.”
The campaign got too dirty too early for her and she feels bombarded with political phone calls. Ms. Lucas doesn’t answer her phone these days unless she recognizes the caller’s number.
Undecided in Ohio
Mrs. Margraf settled into a corner living-room seat to watch the second presidential debate.
Her house, next door to the village office, was dark except for a few lamps and the TV glow. Mr. Margraf watched a Tigers baseball game downstairs.
“Jim and I purposefully don’t talk about our position,” she said.
Teresa Margraf and her husband, Jim, are both graduates of Arcadia Local Schools and have made staying in their hometown a priority.
She wants health care that’s affordable and easier for the elderly to navigate. It’s among her chief concerns since her mother has been in four hospitals and three nursing homes this year. Mrs. Margraf has tried to help untangle the Medicare and Medicaid puzzle on her behalf and finds it complex and expensive.
“My greatest fear right now is that I will put my child through what I’m going through with [my] mom,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything about that, about the needs of the elderly.”
After the debate, she wasn’t much closer to deciding whom to support. The barrage of numbers, studies, and plans made it tricky to compare the candidates. Mrs. Margraf listened from her cozy Arcadia living room as TV pundits dissected the debate.
Immediately, one mentioned the “crucial” state of Ohio.
“Here we go again,” she said.
She hopes to make up her mind before entering the voting booth.
Contact Vanessa McCray at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6065.
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