Ohio’s economic picture offers political dilemma

Ann Sanner

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich warned Wednesday of an economic slowdown happening in the swing state ahead the presidential election, even as Huntington bank announced it is bringing 250 jobs to Ohio.

The Republican governor praised the additional jobs at a news conference with legislative leaders and Huntington CEO Stephen Steinour.

But the announcement highlighted the political dilemma that Kasich faces of promoting the state’s recovery as a model while saying President Barack Obama’s policies are holding Ohio back.

“There’s so many people just on the sidelines, holding off,” Kasich later told reporters, noting what he said was uncertainty from Washington and the outcome of the presidential election.

“We know things are slowing down a little bit,” he said.

Regional bank Huntington Bancshares Inc. said Wednesday it plans to add 250 jobs to its Ohio operations over the next four years to help build its credit card business. The positions would be in customer service and marketing, among other areas.

Steinour said a bipartisan bill passed by the state Legislature helped clear the way for the bank to create the jobs.

Huntington is developing its own line of business and consumer credit cards. Because some states allow financial institutions to charge higher interest rates and other fees than Ohio, the bill allows Ohio-chartered financial institutions to charge rates and fees above the state’s current maximums under law.

Columbus-based Huntington operates almost 700 bank branch offices in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Kasich told reporters that most businesses would rather do nothing than risk new investments while it’s unclear what will happen with health care, taxes and the nation’s debt. “I’m not trying to be partisan here,” he added.

Ohio’s unemployment rate ticked down to 7 percent last month — its lowest in four years — after three consecutive months of holding steady at 7.2 percent. It remains below the national rate of 7.8 percent.

Kasich said Wednesday that too many people in Ohio remain out of work. “We’re doing really well, but we have a long, long way to go,” he said.

The governor supports Republican Mitt Romney and has campaigned for the GOP presidential nominee around Ohio. On Wednesday, he campaigned for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.

Asked how the state’s job numbers would factor into the Nov. 6 presidential election, Kasich said, “There’s no question that if the unemployment’s down to 7 percent that people feel better. But the election’s so close, that I don’t know how it’s going to come out at this point.”

Ohio has 18 electoral votes, seventh most in the nation, and no Republican has won the White House without carrying it.

Each side has used the job numbers in Ohio to portray their records in the best possible light.

Obama supporters have pointed to his administration’s auto bailout as a reason for Ohio’s unemployment rate being below the national average.

House Speaker John Boehner, who is from the Cincinnati area, has noted the political predicament in his home state. He’s said that Kasich’s success fixing government regulations and attracting new businesses as governor may be working against Romney in Ohio.

Kasich told reporters he doesn’t pay attention to surveys, but he’s under the impression that people are giving credit to state leaders.

“There are some people who would give the president credit, but that’s not where most Ohioans see it,” he said. “They see it, you know, through the administration, the legislature — that they deserve compliments for it.”

“I don’t even like this discussion,” Kasich added. “People are going to work and I’m happy about it. Let the chips fall where they may.”