Ashland, Ohio

17 days before the election
Population (Estimated): 20,000
2004 Election: Bush 65%, Kerry 34%, Other 1%
2008 Election: McCain 60%, Obama 37%, Other 3%
(map)

This morning at 6am there was a series of explosions outside our tent. We were camped by a lake in Akron, Ohio and it’s duck hunting season. I warned Graham not to leave the tent without his orange vest for the shotgun blasts continued for most of the morning even as we tried to recover from the nine-hour journey through blizzard traffic in New Jersey and the deceptively long traverse of Pennsylvania.

The inauspicious start to the day was followed sequentially by a dead car battery (always unplug your 12volt power inverter), a mid-Ohio traffic jam to rival the Kosciusko Bridge at 5:10pm on a Friday, and an improvised detour that led to real detour. After our morning meander we arrived in the hard-scrabble town of Ashland round about 12 o’clock in the pm.

Ashland’s the kind of worn town that you find spread across the Northeast and Midwest. It’s a number of factories in various states of decay, with endless strips of strip malls filled with the same institutional stores that fill endless strips of strip malls everywhere.

And at the center is an absolutely decimated downtown that once was, what local Ron Simmons today called “a bustler,” hollowed out of any hustle or bustle. Since Ohio is the swingingest of swing states, political signs for every imaginable office cover the sides of rural roads like crown vetch and storefronts like cobwebs.

The hard-luck we found in Ashland is the recent closure of the Archway Cookies plant. Almost 300 workers lost their jobs without notice on October 6 and according to locals it’s the fourth major plant closing in the last decade. Each of the people we met to today, regardless of the candidate they will endorse on November 4, mentioned the disappearance of jobs from the town and only a handful saw the change in the White House as capable of bringing a halt to the city’s economic decline.

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