One element of that longer view might be to take a look at what sort of jobs Ohio’s economy is producing—and what, if anything, the people running for office can do to influence where those jobs are. When the politicians pass through, whether it’s Obama at a community college or Romney at a closed drywall factory, they tend to talk about manufacturing. Hanauer, of Policy Matters, agreed that focus is appropriate. “I think manufacturing is still a key to Ohio’s economy,” she said. “You need a strong manufacturing sector. Even if that story is boring, it does not mean it’s not true.”

As journalists work to explore the competing economic visions for Ohio and the broader Rust Belt, then, they might hold up the candidates’ plans against the state’s own projections, which foresee a diminishing role for manufacturing. One state report (PDF) estimated that Ohio would add about 250,000 jobs between 2008 and 2018, but that:

Service-providing industries will account for almost all of the job growth; construction is the only goods-producing industry expected to add jobs. Education and health services will add 45 percent of the new jobs, while more than one in four new jobs will be gained in professional and business services. Large numbers of new jobs are also projected in construction; leisure and hospitality; and other services. Transportation and utilities; and financial activities are each projected to add more than 10,000 new jobs by 2018. Also growing are government; and wholesale and retail trade. Manufacturing, natural resources, and information are all projected to lose employment.

One other part of the longer view? Since the crash, those government jobs haven’t been growing. An important issue “that is receiving very little attention are the deep cuts, in Ohio and elsewhere, to local government and local public school budgets,” Paul Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University, wrote via email.

“The effects of those cuts are still to be felt as the locals/schools are putting together their budgets now for the next fiscal year and looking at lots of red ink,” Beck added. “There will surely be another round of cuts in public employment, which might affect the states’ economic situations too. After all, public jobs are jobs, and that sector has been diminishing—and will diminish even more.” (The Dayton Daily News story cited above was strong on this point, noting that cuts in government spending are “one of the headwinds threatening to hold back job growth in the coming months.”)

Hazy short-term data, an uncertain future for manufacturing, looming public-sector cuts—it all adds up to a complicated, challenging subject.

But an important one. It’s unlikely that jobs and the economy will slide down voters’ pecking order of personal concerns in this bellwether state. Which makes this challenge a perfect opportunity for curious, enterprising journalists to go beyond the candidates’ rhetoric, and the latest numbers, to deliver the fuller story to their readers.

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T.C. Brown covered government and politics in the Ohio Statehouse Bureau for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland for more than 17 years, and he has also written for other local, state and national publications. Brown is a founding partner in Webface, a social media communication company.