A week ago, I was a little cranky about the attention Ohio is receiving from the presidential campaigns, but this week, I'm feeling it. What changed? Partly, the race became a lot more interesting. Mitt Romney grew a bit more clear in his positions and a bit more able to speak without putting his foot in his mouth (90 gaffe-free minutes! With substantive policy!). And we saw the president in the unfamiliar light of, well, a little ineptitude. Whatever the cause, the POTUS was off his game. I'm not thinking about the pundits when I say that. As the debate wound down, my wife -- a big Obama fan, mind you -- was shaking her head.
The other part of it that has me changing my tune is being witness to some real efforts at meaningful, deliberative citizen engagement that really reveal how people are making up their minds in Ohio. There are two you should know about -- one I wish I'd been able to attend and one I was in the middle of.
If you pay attention to competitive congressional races, you'll know that Ohio's 16th is one to watch. In the recent round of redistricting, Ohio lost two seats, and among the new map's many gerrymandered districts is one that stretches from Cleveland's western suburbs south through three counties, buttonhooks around Akron while reaching south for a certain important sliver of Canton and stretches into rural Portage County, cleanly avoiding Kent State University. It appears custom-made for Republican Jim Renacci of Wadsworth, who rode to Congress on the Tea Party wave. He's running against incumbent Democrat Betty Sutton of Copley and Cash for Clunkers fame, whose former district was essentially eliminated by the new map. These are night and day. Austerity on one side, bailouts and aid on the other. The campaign has become heated, and both sides have opened the money faucets.
Into the fray steps the Jefferson Action Forum, who recruited 24 Ohioans from across the economic, social, and ethnic spectrums in the district, gave them a days-long crash course in public policy and unleashed them on the candidates.
This is democracy in action, and, frankly, it's far more worth watching than this week's VP debate. (If the vice presidency isn't worth a bucket of bodily fluid, what's the vice presidential debate worth?) I wish I'd been able to participate in the forums in some way, but I'm settling for watching the videos.
But honestly, the VP debate will give us something: the face of Romney's domestic policy versus the face of Obama's foreign policy. I'd say that's still worth 90 minutes of our time. I plan on spending it the same way I spent the first presidential debate -- having a civil, civic-minded backchannel conversation with intelligent Democrats and Republicans. Last week on the Civic Commons, we extended an open invitation to join us in conversation while the debate took place. The rules of engagement are simple: be transparent (no anonymity), be civil, be credible. We listen, we respond, we check facts, and we enjoy the conversation and exchange of ideas. And it turns out, much as the Jefferson Action Forum's efforts, it provides a pretty good window into what Ohioans are thinking about.