Ali Velshi was sitting at Tony Packo's for dinner Thursday night when he found out he had to go on air, from East Toledo's International Park, at 5 a.m. today.
As part of a weeks-long swing state bus tour that started in Boca Raton, Fla,, Mr. Velshi, CNN's chief business correspondent, joined by John Avlon, a reporter for The Daily Beast, stopped in Toledo Thursday, talking to residents about the election.
The target audience, Mr. Velshi said, is undecided voters. Most of the people he's talked to – who haven't made a definitive decision on who will earn their vote Tuesday – are leaning one way or another.
“I'm not convinced that the undecideds are going to … win or lose this election, as much as now it's the ground game,” Mr. Velshi said, adding that both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have retooled their speeches to excite base supporters, rather than try to win over the few remaining undecideds.
“It's the excitement factor; the excitement and the fear factor,” Mr. Velshi said. “ 'If you don't come out and vote for us, the other guy might win.' ”
In Ohio, residents have “competing interests,” Mr. Velshi said.
“There are hard-hit places that are on the upswing, so how do you square that? You're still hard hit, so you are prone to identify with someone who says things are going to get a lot better, i.e. Mitt Romney,” Mr. Velshi said. “ … At the same time, you're sitting here saying, 'While things are tough, and they really are, the new normal is I feel good because they're not getting worse, and in fact they're getting marginally better.”
Important to people in Ohio, and specifically Toledo, is the automotive industry.
On the front page of today's Blade, people in Detroit reacted to Mr. Romney's year-old remarks on the automotive industry – residents both shunned the candidate; others praised him.
“You would have thought this would have died down,” Mr. Velshi said. “In fairness to Mitt Romney, those words [let Detroit go bankrupt] didn't come out of his mouth; he didnt' seem to make a lot of stink about the fact they were associated with him until recently, but didn't exactly say that.
“The problem is, now he has waded back into this thing with Jeep and General Motors, and I have to say, in all of my years of covering business, I have not seen such a harsh reaction from companies, particularly when they don't know who the next president of the Untied States is going to be. … I don't think it's helping him all that much in Ohio.”
Talking to Toledoans about the city, there has been, “a level of excitement that Toledo can come back,” Mr. Velshi said.
Residents in the city have expressed excitement about new restaurants, but said the downtown area needs a grocery store and that stores don't stay open late enough.
“There seems to be stragetic thinking about this city, this beautiful, historic city, with all these old buildings, that looks like so many other Rust Belt cities,” Mr. Velshi said, as Mr. Avlon was outisde interviewing Mayor Michael Bell.
Another positive for the city, is having a newspaper like The Blade, which is independently owned, Mr. Velshi said.
“What a weird thing in America,” he said.
Prior to his interview with the mayor, Mr. Avlon agreed, saying The Blade is a great newspaper, and it's independence from corporate ownership is something readers should value.
The bus tour makes its final stop today in Columbus.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6054.