In the 1990s’ movie Singles, there’s a scene where Debbie Hunt, who used a video dating service to set up a meeting with a potential beau, is dressed head-to-toe in a cycling outfit. She waits at the wrong restaurant, then bikes across the town to another establishment with the same name – only to miss him and find herself cycling up an enormous hill when a tyre goes flat.
She does this all for a guy on a videotape (remember those?). So while struggling to bike home to meet him, Hunt offers, “desperation – it’s the world’s worst cologne”.
Right now, on the ground here in the state of Ohio, Mitt Romney’s bathing in that cologne, like it’s his money on a day at the beach in the Caymans.
There are clear reasons for this, ones that can be hard for some political observers living on the coasts to understand. This is not the besmirch anyone’s analytical skills, but I think I can say as someone who grew up in New York City, lived in Washington, DC, and is now living in Ohio, there is only so much you can understand about how President Obama’s successfully tapped into our current cultural zeitgeist without living here.
Ohio has played an outsized role in this nation’s history. There have been seven presidents from this state. It was at the centre of this country economically from the steamboat era to the height of America’s manufacturing prowess and the Ohio River was a key border slaves once crossed to escape to freedom (the Underground Railroad Museum was inaugurated here a few years ago).
In recent years, however, the state suffered from a manufacturing decline as ill-considered free trade deals, deregulation and other factors beyond the control of everyday Ohioans decimated the economy. The state saw its population fall, and with it its importance as an economic power and cultural force.
These changes have not just been an assault on Ohio’s economy, but it’s a way of life. Therefore, Ohioans, and white workers in particular, are not just looking for policies, but for someone who is on their side on an emotional level.
For three key reasons, President Obama has become the candidate a disproportionate number of white-working-class Ohioans see as being planted firmly there. First, he enacted the auto bailout (result: the economy is rebounding here), while Mitt Romney was looking for a Bain-like arrangement where the auto industry would have crashed, with its parts auctioned off to China. Romney, meanwhile, pranced around puffing out his chest, blithely offering that we should “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”.
Hey, it’s not like it was going to affect his car, or its own elevator.
This leads me to the second major factor, Mitt Romney’s record-breaking career of getting rich off of destroying successful companies. Call it what you will, vulture capitalism, as Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry once did, or leveraged buyouts, if you like. Whatever you name it, Romney bought often thriving companies, saddled them with debt, paid himself and his country club pals obscene fees and then let the companies implode, taking with them the hopes, aspirations and healthcare of an untold number of American workers.
These stories, highlighted in advertisements by super PAC Priorities USA, were mostly about workers in locales such as Kansas City and Indiana. Ohioans could relate to what they were hearing – they’ve lived it, even if critics like Harold Ford, Jr, with his caviar-catered helicopter rides around New York City, has not.
Romney, of course, being a cartoon of a parody of satire of the Monopoly Man on meth, only made matters worse by being Mitt Romney (Seriously, who takes pictures with their Brooks-Brothers-clad buddies with dollar bills in their pockets and mouths??).
Finally, an assist must be given to Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Kasich was elected with the help of many union members in 2010, and especially police and firefighters, only to turn around and try to dismantle their collective-bargaining rights.
For some reason they took offence.
So there are reasons for Mitt Romney’s current scent of cologne. He and his allies, including the increasingly wild hog-resembling Karl Rove, have dumped millions into attack ads in Ohio. Romney has tried every trick, from lying about the auto bailout to pretending he hasn’t spent a life self-deporting jobs to China to almost dressing up as the Coal Miner’s Daughter when in Southeast Ohio. None has worked.
The people of Ohio know who’s on their side and who’s a phony, and no amount of tax-shelter-supplied campaign funds will change that.
Cliff Schecter is an author, pundit and public relations strategist whose firm Libertas, LLC handles media relations for political, corporate and non-profit clients.
Follow him on Twitter: @CliffSchecter