CUYAHOGA FALLS: Jim Rosen had no warning that the battle for the American presidency was about to take a detour through his ice cream store.
Rosen had taken Thursday off to extend his holiday and play some golf, but a mid-afternoon phone call from his wife alerted him to the fact that people with cameras were milling about the stand and employees were told to expect some political luminaries at any moment.
Rosen made it to Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream on State Road minutes before a Mitt Romney for President campaign bus pulled into the parking lot.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — Republicans on a mission to steal some of the spotlight from President Obama’s own bus tour through Ohio this week — stepped out to shake hands with customers, meet local leaders and sample the fare.
“This is cool. I really had no idea they were coming,” Rosen said.
Cuyahoga Falls was the third of four stops for the Romney team, which began with a rally in Maumee and a pierogi lunch in Parma and ended with a tailgate party at a Mahoning Valley Scrappers ballgame in Youngstown.
Obama also made stops in Maumee and Parma, as well as Sandusky. He was expected to stay overnight at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Fairlawn, with official events scheduled today at an elementary school in Poland and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
It should come as no surprise that Ohio is a battleground this presidential election.
“A lot of states have a strong lean one way or the other, but Ohio is truly one of those swing states that could go either way,” Pawlenty said, “so the campaigns are going to be putting a ton of attention and energy and focus on trying to make their case to the people of Ohio.”
Jindal and Pawlenty, both frequent subjects of vice presidential speculation, were consistent with their message.
“President Obama is coming through Ohio today on a bus tour that he has called ‘Betting on America,’ ” Pawlenty said. “Of course, we should bet on America, but we shouldn’t double down on Barack Obama. His presidency has been a losing game for Ohio, and it’s been a losing game for the country.”
Outside Handel’s, Pawlenty and Jindal chatted up local city council members and Mayor Don Robart, but spent just as much time with folks who had stopped by to beat the heat with a cold cone or had made a beeline to the store after getting wind of the visit.
Sandi Cole of Fairlawn, who said her nephew is Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose, was accompanied by her daughters and granddaughters.
“I wanted to meet two of our Republican leaders but I think it’s also important for the children to see the political process and that it’s important to be involved,” she said.
As she spoke, granddaughters Brynna and Briley Kouri and Olivia and Samantha Creed, all between 5 and 8, posed for a picture with Pawlenty, making bunny ears behind his head while the former governor laughed.
Meanwhile, Jindal spent time with Alyssa Bailey, the 23-year-old president of College Republicans at the University of Akron.
Bailey asked Jindal for tips on how to “ignite the passion” of her peers while “getting them to understand that local government is just as important as Romney’s campaign.”
Jindal told her debating the issues is important, but individuals need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and take an active role.
“There’s always some local issue or race that you believe in and want to work for. Just go do it. Don’t wait for somebody to tell you,” he told her.
Later, Bailey said she was also impressed that Jindal told her that by volunteering for door-to-door or phone bank campaign work “you can have conversations with people who might have different views and understand the opposite side, because as Americans, that’s the beauty of it. We come from different views and backgrounds but if we come together to a middle point, we can have a better understanding of each other.”
Needs of business
Rosen invited the campaigners out of the heat and into his store for a closer look at operations, where Pawlenty asked Rosen about his biggest challenge as a business owner.
“You know, we thought it would be the kids [employees] but they’ve been great,” he said.
Instead, the biggest challenge was last year’s gloomy, wet summer, combined with a mandatory state increase in the minimum wage, he said.
With productivity down but wages up, “we struggled for about five months,” he said.
Before reboarding the bus for their next stop, Jindal and Pawlenty pressed their talking points.
Obama “made a bunch of big promises last time, and he’s broken almost all of them,” Pawlenty said. “For example, he said he’d cut the budget deficit in half during his first term. He’s tripled the budget deficit, or nearly so.”
The employment rate has suffered, Obama’s federal health care reform is causing insurance rates to rise, and his stimulus bill didn’t help the economy, he said.
Obama “had his chance. It’s not working, and we need to try a new and better direction and that’s getting Mitt Romney elected,” he said.
Added Jindal: “This election is about our children and grandchildren. I’ve got three young kids. I want them to live the American dream. I want them to have chances to work hard and get a great education. In America, nobody promises you you’re entitled to your neighbor’s property, but they do promise if you work hard, you can do better than your parents.”
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com.