Balloon A-Fair a hotbed of undecided voters

Holly Schoenstein

Thousands of people gathered at Ravenna’s 30th Balloon A-Fair Saturday – an event that served not only as a community builder and as entertainment, but as a hotbed of potential voters who presidential candidates are trying to tap in the swing state of Ohio.

Booths for the Portage County Democratic and Republican headquarters stood along Main Street. Local elected officials and candidates running for office spoke about their campaigns – along with supporting those of Barack Obama and John McCain in their absence – and the importance of this critical area to the national election.

State Rep. Kathleen Chandler, one of the politicians at the festival, is running for re-election this year.

“Ohio is a very important state; the decisions that we make in the ballot are very important ones. (They) may well determine who our next president’s going to be,” Chandler said.

“So I hope people look beyond issues that are maybe more philosophical and look instead at what we need to do now to turn this economy around. And if they don’t like what we’ve been doing for the last eight years, they need to vote for a change.”

According to the latest poll results from ABC’s Web site, 47 percent of Ohio voters support Obama and 45 percent support McCain. That means 8 percent – approximately 900,000 voters – are still undecided.

And with other local events before the election in November, both parties will have ample opportunities to make their cases.

“My goals are to meet just as many folks from Portage County as possible and try to get my message out about lowering taxes so that we can finally attract businesses, attract employers instead of constantly losing them .,” said Republican W. Roak Zeller, Chandler’s opponent for state representative. “We’re going to be meeting thousands of people today .,” he said.

Both party’s booths were well staffed, although an official number of representatives working for each was not available.

Some voters who remain undecided are searching for something to persuade them. Ravenna resident Vito Giulitto, a registered independent, is not sure what that something could be.

“I don’t want to vote Republican because of how it’s been for the last four, eight years, but I’m not sure that I agree with the Democratic side this time around, so I’m kind of tossed up,” Giulitto, 27, said. He hopes to decide by Election Day.

But even decided voters recognize the importance of events, such as the Balloon A-Fair, to the presidential election.

“I think all events are important, and Ravenna is basically a Democratic community,” registered Republican Ravenna resident Dick Wilcox, 69, said. He said he hopes that the remaining political events prompt undecided voters to back a candidate.

Thirty-four-year-old Geneva Jones, who has decided to back Obama, also has her mind made up but realizes the importance of community events in winning over voters. The economy and job stability are of the greatest to concern to her family.

“I want to make sure that my job is safe and my husband’s job is safe, so that’s what’s really important to our family and our children,” Jones said. “We have five kids, and we want to make sure they have a future to look forward to.”

Jones said she believes that unregistered and undecided voters can use events like the Balloon A-Fair to register to vote and to educate themselves on the issues of the election and the candidates’ platforms.

Contact public affairs reporter Holly Schoenstein at [email protected].