Rep. Betty Sutton is in a tight Member-vs.-Member race for the state’s 16th district against her Republican rival, Rep. Jim Renacci.
“The greatest challenge is the 50 percent new district,” Renacci said Tuesday in Canton. “People don’t know who I am, and they see ads, and you’ve got to get past that. What I’ve learned is once you get past the clutter of the ads, and people get to meet me on-one-one, the majority of them understand my background, my experience and I get their support.”
‘The Auto Belt’
The daughter of a boilermaker, Sutton dismissed the term “Rust Belt.” Instead, the polished former labor attorney prefers to call this area the “Opportunity Belt.” But there’s another related moniker for parts of this region — the “Auto Belt” — because car manufacturing directs much of the local economy.
It’s why Sutton was the primary House sponsor of the “Cash for Clunkers” program three years ago, and the government trade-in program persists as an issue on the campaign trail today. For the second time in as many cycles, she faces a car dealership owner as an opponent.
“It’s ironic, because of the way the lines were drawn in redistricting, he’s one of the dealers who locked his franchise,” said Alan Spitzer, 66, a dealership owner and Sutton supporter who lives outside the 16th district in northern Ohio. “He’s a good man. I just think she deserves to be re-elected.”
Several weeks ago, Renacci ran TV ads blasting the government’s intervention in the auto industry via the auto bailout, showing his closed dealership to punctuate his point. The spots were quite a juxtaposition for voters here because Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is also on the ballot next month and remains relatively popular, ran advertisements touting the program’s success at the same time.
As the National Race Goes
A confident salesman in a navy suit, the visibly tired Renacci sells his business background to like-minded members of the National Association of Manufacturers in Canton. Earlier on Tuesday, he visited Royalton Architectural Fabrication, a company that constructs aluminum paneling for buildings such as the Cleveland State University Student Center. Everywhere, his fellow businessmen bemoan the state of the local economy.
“We’re in the construction business, so it’s not good,” griped Stefan Winkler, the 62-year-old owner of the fabrication company.
“It’s not good in any business right now,” Renacci replied. “You’re speaking to the choir. I was a CPA who started their own business.”
But no matter how hard Renacci and Sutton push issues of local importance, the fate of their race lies with the national campaigns. Democrats felt good about Sutton’s prospects in September, when President Barack Obama had a solid lead in the Buckeye State. Internal polls at the time showed Sutton slightly ahead, according to one Republican source.
But as the race between Obama and Mitt Romney has tightened in the state in recent weeks, Republicans are now the ones feeling better about a Renacci victory.