Ohio decided the last presidential election and at the very least it’s delayed a decision on the Democratic nominee this year.  The economy and NAFTA were apparently the big issues for primary voters in this slowly dying manufacturing state, who get hammered by realities of global market competition.

The candidates can pander all they want about helping people find new jobs in Ohio and other places in the old industrial rustland. But it ain’t going to happen.  Industry doesn’t want to move to these cold places which are pockmarked by brownfields left from relic factories and plants. Most of all they want to avoid union rights states. So if they stay in the higher cost U.S. at all they’ll locate facilities in places like Mobile, Alabama. That’s where Northrop Grumman will be building new super fuel tankers for the military — right smack dab in the middle of a right to work state which happens to have a much more temperate climate than Youngstown. The Pentagon just made that decision last week.

As for dissing NAFTA, the candidates are all hot air. I was at a private Obama fundraiser two weeks ago where Austan Goolsbee, an Obama economic advisor, told us the same thing he told the Canadian diplomat in Chicago, which caused a big flap over the weekend. Goolsbee said that Obama would seek minor amendments to NAFTA, trying to put American workers on a more level playing field regarding safety and environmental issues.  Obama, he said, may shade some statements in certain states for political advantage, but essentially he is a free trader. Hillary doesn’t want to abrogate NAFTA either and neither does McCain.

Not that trashing the treaty would help Ohio. That’s one state that will continue to lose electoral votes as its population steadily ages and ebbs. And then it won’t  matter so much how people there vote in national elections.  It’s too bad, but  that’s what’s happening.

By the way, anybody investing in the Buckeye state?

© Miller Ryan LLC 2008