Pastor Brian LaMont Monford, Sr., of the Philippian Missionary Baptist Church, has helped organize a 'Souls to the Polls' event.
THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
One in a series
LIMA, Ohio — Donetia and Douglas Hurt met in 1957 going door to door selling the Lima News.
He took the houses on one side of the street, she took the other.
The couple have been married for 49 years, said Mrs. Hurt, while she and her husband, joined by friends at Lima’s iconic downtown Kewpee burger joint, ate lunch.
In 2008, Mrs. Hurt and Becky Hackworth voted for Barack Obama — he was the right man to lead the country, they agreed.
“I voted for Obama because I thought, ‘Change.’ We needed change,” Ms. Hackworth said.
“We got destruction,” Mrs. Hurt said, as another one of their lunch companions, Dale Paul. added, “Now we need change again.”
Tuesday, the four will cast their ballots in favor of Mitt Romney to be the 45th president of the United States.
ABOUT THE CITY
Average Age: 33
Major employers: St. Rita's Hospital, Lima Memorial Hospital, Procter and Gamble, Ford Motor Co.
Unemployment rate: 6.8 percent in September (unadjusted)
Registered Democrats: 1,833
Registered Republicans: 3,318
Total Registered Voters: 22,674
Median household income: $30,525
How it voted: In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain 8,474 to 5,798.
What it comes down to, for many in Lima — an Allen County city of about 38,700, with the tendency to support Democrats — is stability.
Stabilizing the economy, stabilizing the country’s deficit, and steady employment for those who are looking.
“Romney is the only one qualified” to fix the economy, Mr. Hurt said, although he acknowledged that Mr. Romney might not have the answers to every problem. “... I’m praying [Mr. Obama] doesn’t get re-elected. I can’t imagine what will happen to our country.”
When Mr. Obama won the election four years ago, Mr. Hurt said that, although he cast his ballot for John McCain, he thought Mr. Obama would have success in the White House.
“I thought, ‘OK, maybe a black man will do something good for this country,’ ” Mr. Hurt said. “Boy was I wrong.”
Even with strong feelings in favor of Mr. Romney, Mr. Hurt claims he would “vote for who’s best for the country, regardless.”
Mrs. Hurt and Ms. Hackworth were joined by thousands of others in Lima — 8,474 in total — who supported Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain received 5,798 votes, according to records from the Allen County Board of Elections.
A city with a heavy manufacturing base, Lima — although it has more registered Republicans than Democrats — is decidedly more left-leaning in a county that is fiercely conservative.
In 2008, Mr. McCain dominated Allen County, receiving more than 59 percent of the vote, records show.
Lima could go either way this year, residents said. It’s a showdown city in a showdown state. And the campaigns appear to be paying attention, too.
Mr. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has visited the area, and Mr. Romney was scheduled to stop in neighboring Elida last week, although the stop was canceled as Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast.
Friday, Mr. Obama became the first incumbent Democratic president to visit Lima, Mayor David Berger said.
“It’s hard to know [how Lima will vote],” said Mayor Berger, a Democrat whose office is nonpartisan. “But the fact that, for the first time in history, the President of the United States is coming to Lima indicates how hard fought this is. … I admire the fact he’s coming. I think it will excite folks here in a way that really hasn’t happened before. It could make a real difference here.”
Two days before the President’s stop in Lima, there was definitely excitement.
At 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, 27-year-old Gregory Pitts became the first person in line for tickets to see the President.
Mr. Pitts, after waiting in line for almost three hours, was bundled in layers of clothing, a tattered sweatshirt hood pulled over his head as he bounced up and down (a way to stay warm and channel his excited energy).
For the last six months, Mr. Pitts has been unemployed, a strange, unwelcome change of pace for a man who frequently worked two jobs. In Lima, the unemployment rate as of September was slightly less than the state average, at 6.8 percent. Across the state, unemployment was at 7 percent.
Before finding himself out of work, Mr. Pitts was working in a hotel and a factory.
“I’ve been looking for a job like anyone else,” he said. “I can’t be too picky. … It’s hard to get a full-time job here, too.”
Mr. Pitts will vote Tuesday for Mr. Obama, just as he did four years ago. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t willing to give the Republican ticket a chance.
In September, when Mr. Ryan was in Lima, Mr. Pitts was there.
“I wanted to see what he was saying,” Mr. Pitts said. “But there was no realism.”
The few undecideds
Lester Wood, whom everyone at Lima’s Lickety Split diner knows as Junior, might be one of the few undecided voters left in Ohio.
Though he hasn’t made up his mind on whom to vote for, he’s leaning toward supporting Mr. Obama, just as he did four years ago, he said.
“I don’t know if that’s the right choice though,” he said, sipping coffee from a small brown mug.
Mr. Wood, a retired electrician, said the availability of jobs, along with the price of goods and the economy in general, is what concerns him most.
Mr. Obama’s upbringing — “Obama came up from nothing,” Mr. Wood said — puts him in a better position to improve the country and know what people need to survive.
“I just don’t believe Romney,” Mr. Wood continued. “He’s never went without milk or bread.”
When Kenny Schim walked into the diner, greeted by a chorus of “Kenny!” and “Hey, it’s Kenny!” the “should-be-retired” Democrat sat down and ordered a cheeseburger.
Mr. Schim, who owns and operates heavy machinery, said he'll vote for Mr. Obama, “although I don’t agree with everything,” just as he did in 2008.
He doesn’t blame all of the country’s problems on Mr. Obama — it’s a tough job, even for someone surrounded by the best advisers.
“If I was smart enough to run the country, that’s what I’d be doing,” Mr. Schim said.
Getting to the polls
In Lima, making sure people get to the polls seems to be just as important as trying to sway anyone into either candidate’s camp.
Today, Pastor Brian LaMont Monford, Sr., of Lima’s Philippian Missionary Baptist Church, is one of a number of local ministers who will lead a voting event, “Souls to the Polls.”
“Our faith is put into action, even in the political process,” said Pastor Monford, who intends to vote for Mr. Obama.
Mr. Paul, who was having lunch at Kewpee, was disappointed at the turnout in 2008.
“You gotta vote,” he said. “Half of the population is registered to vote and only half of those people voted.”
The sign outside the church — with a membership of 1,700 — is a play on the upcoming election.
“I will never leave or forsake you. I am Jesus Christ and I approve this message.”
Regardless of who wins the election, the political gridlock in Washington must end, Pastor Monford said.
“What the Bible teaches me is that a house divided shall not stand,” he said.
Zac Leland, a city police officer, has lived in the Lima area his entire life. Now 23, he’s married to his longtime sweetheart. and the two are raising their 9-month-old daughter inside the city limits.
A passionate and eager young officer — he’s been with Lima police for almost two years — he declined to discuss his personal political views as he navigated the streets in a police sport utility vehicle Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, but he said a healthy economy would reduce crime rates.
“I want there to be incentives for business in this town,” Officer Leland said. “I think if we had jobs there would be less crime. I think if people had the satisfaction of working, their quality of life would go up,” he said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6054 or on Twitter at tdungjen_Blade.