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We go door to door in Akron, to hear what issues are on the minds of Ohio voters

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're listening to voters who will decide control of Congress. Our team interviewed more than 40 people in two congressional districts to sample what's on their minds. All are people to reckon with because all have the power of the vote. We started in Ohio, which is choosing a U.S. senator - specifically, Akron, Ohio, where a congressional seat is also considered a toss-up. On the morning we arrived, a senior citizen's line dancing class was underway.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right. Here we go. Let's break it down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Break it down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right, let's do it right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Five, six, seven - go.

INSKEEP: A woman gestured toward our editor, Ally Schweitzer, and me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Left, right. Left, right.

INSKEEP: Oh, we're supposed to participate in the line dancing. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Right, left. Right, left.

INSKEEP: And we did as duty required.

Participatory journalism. Hello there, ma'am. It's your first day? It is also my first day.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Right, left. Right, left.

INSKEEP: Afterward, five women sat to talk.

Do we want to pull up a couple of chairs or just stand?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Go ahead.

INSKEEP: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Let's sit at the table.

INSKEEP: Including Teresa Peek (ph).

TERESA PEEK: This is a great community to raise your children. I think that the school systems are doing a phenomenal job. They've totally remodeled most of our schools.

INSKEEP: We were in a community center in a largely Black neighborhood where houses line up on tree-lined streets. But Margaret Bush (ph) has concerns.

MARGARET BUSH: I have cameras because we have a lot of shootings in south Akron, a lot. I mean, they go down the street like cowboys and Indians shooting back at each other. And so I had cameras around my house.

INSKEEP: People also worry about a different kind of shooting. Akron police last summer killed Jayland Walker, who was fleeing a traffic stop.

PEEK: Well, we want protection from people in the streets and from our own police officers. If you can shoot someone 60 times, that's just overkill. And I'm more afraid now to stop an officer and say, well, will you help me?

INSKEEP: When we asked how people feel about the country, Margaret Bush spoke of inflation.

BUSH: I'll take example. A bucket of chitlins used to be 8.99...

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: ...OK? Nobody eats chitlins but Black people, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: That's true.

BUSH: Now they're 24.99, the same bucket that was 8.99 two years ago.

INSKEEP: Several women said they're voting for Democrats for Congress. But the issues they highlighted - crime and inflation - are issues Republicans are campaigning on. A Democrat last won this congressional district. Now the seat is open in this old industrial region, headquarters of Goodyear Tire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: When the job is tough and the roads are, too, a man needs a tire that can take it.

INSKEEP: Twentieth century factories drew migrants here from the American South and from Europe, including the Greek ancestors of Bryan Williams, who's the county Republican chairman.

BRYAN WILLIAMS: My grandfather worked at Goodyear for 35 years. You could smell it in the air. My grandparents had grape leaves and pear trees, everything in their backyard of their little city lot. And we'd go over. And we'd eat the fruit. And you could taste the rubber in the fruit.

INSKEEP: Some children and grandchildren of those immigrants are now voters for Williams' party, like the man who runs Emidio's Pizza.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ROBERT GENE: Hi. Robert Gene (ph). You got it.

INSKEEP: You're the guy who's got the name on the business...

GENE: Well, my father started it.

INSKEEP: Oh, your father started it?

GENE: Yeah.

INSKEEP: How long ago?

GENE: Seventy years ago. And right now, my son works with me at night. So...

INSKEEP: Talking over the counter, he said he's very focused on the soaring price of ingredients, like eggs.

Are you following the election this year? There's elections for Congress.

GENE: Yeah, yeah. I would imagine it's going to be a landslide Republican because they're telling people that they can change it.

INSKEEP: But in Akron, new immigrants are raising new issues. Just across from the Italian pizzeria stands an old Italian community center, which has a new sign. It's now a wedding hall catering to people from South Asia.

Hello.

JANGA GAJMER: Hello.

INSKEEP: Yeah, hi there.

GAJMER: Yes.

INSKEEP: We found the co-owner, Janga Gajmer, continuing his renovation. He is a refugee from Bhutan.

GAJMER: I mean, you know, we live in a, like, a refugee camp, like, more than 20 years.

INSKEEP: Akron actively welcomes migrants and refugees to stop its population from declining. Some of them just held an engagement party in the wedding hall.

(Laughter) I love it. What a great space. The - it looks like could be neon behind the husband and wife seats there, says better together.

Some of the newcomers are now U.S. citizens and plan to vote. One we met is a refugee from Southeast Asia, Sa Nguyen.

SA NGUYEN: I became a U.S. citizen in 2019 and also voted for the first time in 2020 elections. It matters to me voting. I already have plan for this November 8. I'm going to take two friends. I already reached out to them. They're going to go with me to the poll location to vote on the day.

INSKEEP: We met him in an Asian community center where the Democratic congressional candidate had just spoken. Younger voters there told us they worried about hate crimes and student loans. After we met them, we had lunch in a Thai restaurant run by a refugee couple and went walking door to door in the wind.

Brick street from the early 20th century, I guess. And these houses seem to be kind of a century old.

Candidate signs Decorate some Lawns.

J.D. Vance. Vote Madison.

Those are Republicans seeking open seats in the U.S. Senate and House. The Democrats are Tim Ryan and Emilia Sykes. Both races are considered close and were closely followed by the first people who answered their door.

Hi there. We're reporters with NPR - National Public Radio. My name is Steve Inskeep. Hey. How are you?

RICHARD CRAMER: You're the real Steve Inskeep?

INSKEEP: Yes, I am. Yeah. Hi, puppy.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

INSKEEP: Richard Cramer (ph) is retired and a Vietnam veteran. He's heard the campaign talk about crime.

R CRAMER: But as far as I'm understanding, crime has been diminishing. And it's more scare tactics, I think, used by politicians.

INSKEEP: A chart released by the Akron mayor's office shows robberies and some other crimes are up in the past year. But overall, reported crimes are down. Nationwide, violent crime rates dropped massively in recent decades, but have been rising in recent years. Cramer worries more about investigations of the January 6 attack, which he's been watching on MSNBC.

R CRAMER: It's just so very frightening that we came so close to losing it all.

INSKEEP: And his wife, Jenny Cramer (ph), worries about abortion rights. A Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for an Ohio law that bans almost all abortions. Though, a judge has blocked that law for now, Cramer sees a broader attack on women in society.

How do you feel about the future for your kids and grandkids?

JENNY CRAMER: I think my grandsons will do OK.

INSKEEP: Your grandsons?

J CRAMER: Yeah. I have three grandsons. But the way things are going for women...

INSKEEP: You're shaking your head.

J CRAMER: I just don't think they're going to have a future.

INSKEEP: The Cramers have followed the careers of their local Democratic candidates and plan to vote for them. They've seen the signs for the Republican candidates in the yard just across this brick street.

Do you guys talk about that at all?

R CRAMER: No, we don't talk because before the 2020 election, he had a huge Trump sign and flag over here.

INSKEEP: And that was all you wanted to know?

R CRAMER: That was all I needed to know.

INSKEEP: The neighbor across the street wasn't home. But the people behind them answered the door. They have a green-shingled house with wind chimes on the porch and four Halloween pumpkins out front.

What's your name?

DEBORAH LEWIS: Deborah (ph).

INSKEEP: Hi, Deborah.

PATRICK RAMSDELL: Hello.

INSKEEP: Oh, hey. How are you?

RAMSDELL: Patrick (ph). Nice to meet you.

INSKEEP: Hi, Patrick. Hey. Nice to meet you both

LISA WEINER, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Lisa. Nice to meet you both.

INSKEEP: As always, we asked open-ended questions, what concerns people have about the community or country.

LEWIS: Well, first of all, you missed me taking the Trump signs down because I was about to mow the lawn.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK.

LEWIS: So I'm definitely conservative.

INSKEEP: And Deborah Lewis (ph) has followed Republican claims that Christians are being denied free speech.

LEWIS: There's a deteriorating thing that's happening within the schools, within the communities individually, with taking away freedoms.

INSKEEP: Do you guys have any experience of that in your own day-to-day lives around here?

LEWIS: Well, this community - I've lived within this community for about three years.

INSKEEP: She said she felt restricted around immigrants from other cultures. Her friend, Patrick Ramsdell (ph), works as a nurse. Though, his car in the driveway has stickers against vaccines. He doesn't believe the science and also doesn't believe the dozens of courts and thousands of officials who affirmed that Trump lost in 2020.

RAMSDELL: I'm a very spiritual person as well. And there's a Jewish rabbi that I follow. And he says that he's able to look inside the Torah, inside the Hebrew language, and there's codes, you know, that are actually hidden in it. And he found Trump's name in there.

INSKEEP: A New Jersey preacher has published a series of books claiming to find current events in the Bible. Ramsdell says he came to faith while reading the Gospel of John.

Let me just jump in for a second. Book of John, by the way, is a beautiful book. But how does that connect to Donald Trump? People don't necessarily think of him as a particularly spiritual or devout person.

RAMSDELL: You're right. And I know Trump, you know, is a man just like us. And we're all capable of both bad and good.

INSKEEP: He embraces a common evangelical view of Trump as God's instrument, whose misdeeds are all part of the plan. By now, the national divisions over Trump are familiar, but something new will influence the voting here in 2022.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: 10TV news at 6 begins with breaking news tonight. Just minutes ago, Ohio's redistricting commission approved maps to send to the state supreme court.

INSKEEP: Redistricting changed the boundaries of Ohio's 13th district. The former Democratic seat is now closely divided. And that matters in congressional races, where many people don't know the candidates and vote the party line. The new district includes rural areas well south of Akron, where producer Lisa Weiner and I walked from door to door in a harsh wind.

WEINER: OK, these next two.

INSKEEP: In a neighborhood of widely spaced houses, we found a woman who gave her name as Glenda (ph).

GLENDA: I was a Democrat. I grew up a Democrat, always voted Democrat up until the election when Trump came on board. And I'm not saying I like Trump. I don't like what's happening in our country right now.

INSKEEP: In explaining her political evolution, she says her husband had to sell his furniture store in a nearby town.

GLENDA: We couldn't compete with the market. We had to buy cases from China. And they would send us the junkiest furniture ever.

INSKEEP: Would you vote for Trump a third time? You would not vote for him a third time. Why not?

GLENDA: I don't - after the January 6, I just don't trust him. I don't. I do not trust him now. I'm afraid he's going to cause problems like he's already caused. I never dreamed in a million years he would do something like that, even if he did do it. I don't know. What do I know? But I won't vote for him again.

INSKEEP: She reached her limit on the man who drew her into the Republican Party. But she has not reached her limit on being Republican. She says she's likely to vote for her party's candidates for House and Senate, elections that could give control of Congress to Trump's party.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID GRISMAN AND BRYAN BOWERS' "MANDOHARP FANTASY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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