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Democrats get little boost from stimulus

Map of the 13th Distirct in Ohio
Gene Thorp/The Washington Post

Don Kelsey, a 50-year-old fabric store employee, stopped to greet Ganley at the Summit County Fair, intrigued by the candidate's pitch that he is "a businessman, not a politician." Kelsey didn't buy a new car last year, and he had never heard of a "smart" electricity meter. "I'm fighting from paycheck to paycheck," Kelsey told Ganley. "I don't understand why everyone's getting help but me."

Sutton hopes that voters will look beyond the road projects that are putting people to work short term and recognize the benefits of longer-term investments in new industries and a better-prepared work force. Lorain County Community College, which Obama visited in January, has retrained 600 unemployed residents using stimulus money, and about half have found jobs. Hundreds more are continuing to enroll.

Ten years ago, about a third of Lorain County's jobs were in manufacturing. Today that figure is about 15 percent. "It's not a short-term proposition," said Marcia Ballinger, the college's vice president for strategic development. "There are short-term pieces of it, but the problems just run so deep."

Even Cash for Clunkers is difficult to measure empirically. Ganley is a critic, but some of his competitors are big fans. "It jump-started the entire industry, and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time," said Alan Spitzer, chief executive of Spitzer Auto Group, who urged Sutton to push the rebate program and whose 23 dealerships sold about 1,000 cars through Cash for Clunkers.

Joseph Lee, plant manager of the Avon Lake Ford plant, said the steady decline in production, which forced 200 layoffs in 2009, started to level off when Cash for Clunkers took effect. That was true even though his plant makes gas-guzzling Econoline vans, not the compact cars that were selling best. "All I know is my plant was shutting down week after week. And then we weren't."

A year ago, even Ganley had a rosier assessment of the program. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that it "certainly primed the pump," although he complained about its execution.

"It's a little duplicitous," Spitzer said of Ganley's reversal. "This program woke up the market. It was an unqualified success."

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