Two weeks before the election, I stood on a factory floor in Springfield, Ohio, and watched a woman my age crawl around a giant cab of a tractor-trailer. She moved with the grace of a human spider.
A 20-year veteran at the plant, she was responsible for double-checking other workers’ jobs as the truck made its way to the end of the production line. Her movements were seamless and seemingly effortless. The muscles in her arms flexed as she pulled herself from one spot to another, her legs darting left and right. When she caught a glimpse of my wide-eyed stare, she grinned and kept moving.
It was a crystalizing moment, standing less than two feet away from her as she worked. A core narrative of the presidential race had unfolded right in front of me.
That woman and I are the same age and call Ohio home, but we live miles-apart lives. As she clawed her way over the top of that cab, I was mindful of the toll that kind of work takes on a human body and of the clueless politicians who never give that a thought.
When suit-and-tie Republicans talk about things such as tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and raising the retirement age for Social Security, they make two big mistakes. The first is thinking that workers such as that woman don’t matter.
The second is assuming that workers such as that woman don’t care.
I walked out of that factory and knew, then and there, that Mitt Romney would lose Ohio. He wasn’t even trying to understand the lives of people who depend on their bodies to make a living. Worse, he was counting on Ohio’s being a state full of workers too stupid to know when they’re being played for chumps.
Less than a week after my visit to that factory, as if confirming my hunch, Romney was back in Ohio claiming that Chrysler was going to move its Jeep production from Toledo to China. Even after Chrysler’s CEO insisted otherwise, the Romney campaign refused to pull misleading TV and radio ads designed to fuel Jeep workers’ greatest fears. Had Romney bothered to visit that Jeep plant, he would have discovered more than 700 tradespeople – including 300 electricians – working to get the plant ready for increased production.
This is not a told-you-so column. I was raised to believe that when the choices are between being right and being at peace, the latter is always the better option. I am also mindful of how eager most Americans are to put this campaign season behind them. I’m all for that, as long as we also acknowledge the hard lessons of this long year.
Sorry, folks. For that, it’s still all about Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.
I love Ohio, and I hate what Romney and outsiders such as Karl Rove tried to do to my state this year. I’m far from alone. For months, I’ve had to listen to fellow Buckeyes complain about the relentless assault of campaign ads. After a while, a false equivalence sets in: They’re all bad. They think we’re all idiots, too.
I’m not snacking on sour grapes here. My presidential candidate was declared the winner after he won Ohio. Fuller disclosure: My husband, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, was a primary target of Rove’s millions, but he won, too.
I never will be one of those Ohioans who love to trash the state they left behind. I was born and raised here, and I still live here. If you think we’re boring, it probably would be better for all of us if you left. My grown kids sometimes tease me for clinging to Midwestern ways, but I never will apologize for believing that a person can be nice and interesting at the same time.
And here’s what the next round of presidential candidates should know: There are plenty of Ohioans just like me, and we all vote.
Just ask Mitt Romney and Karl Rove.
• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.