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Ali Velshi was dining Thursday night at Tony Packo’s when he learned he had to go on the air from East Toledo’s International Park at 5 a.m. on Friday.
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 on Thursday and talked with residents about the 2012 election.
The target audience, Mr. Velshi said, is undecided voters. Most of those he has spoken with are leaning one way or another, he said.
“I’m not convinced that the undecideds are going to … win or lose this election ... now it's the ground game,” Mr. Velshi said, adding that both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have retooled 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: ‘If you don't come out and vote for us, the other guy might win,’ ” Mr. Velshi said.
Ohio residents have “competing interests,” he 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. Mr. Velshi cited a front-page story in Friday's Blade about Detroiters' lingering feelings about Mr. Romney's remarks in 2008 concerning the auto sector's financial collapse, which some praised but many lambasted.
“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 didn't seem to make a lot of stink about the fact they were associated with him until recently, but he 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 United 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 are excited about new restaurants, but want a grocery store downtown and for stores to stay open later, he said.
“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 outside interviewing Mayor Michael Bell.
Another positive for the city is having an independently owned newspaper like The Blade, 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 its 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.