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Economy shows signs of recovery in battleground of Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Kim May and her husband, Pat, have spent the last three years rebuilding their broken lives. In 2009 the company where Kim May had worked for 11 years was sold, and shortly thereafter she was laid off, joining millions of other Americans looking for work.

"I just pictured the worst case scenario. We're going to lose our house and we're going to lose everything," she said.

Located in Galloway on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, May's tidy ranch-style home is her pride and joy, the backyard fenced in for the couple's two dogs.

"Everything we had was based on two incomes, like most people today, however that going away and going down to unemployment didn't even scratch the surface," she said.

May applied for dozens of jobs, even going as far as down-grading her resume to appear less qualified for open positions, but nobody hired her. Risking mortgage default she also applied for a loan modification but said she found little help. It's an experience that has left her firmly committed to change in November.

"The current administration and the current president would have us believe he's out for the middle class and he definitely says the middle class woman," she said. "That is not correct. That is absolutely not correct.”

Ohio's unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, which is about a percentage point lower than the national average, but many argue that hardly reveals the whole story across a state of nearly 12 million people. Ohio's recovery is uneven: It depends on where you are in the state. Last summer, unemployment rates dropped in half of the 88 counties, but even at the current rate it will take the Buckeye State three and a half years to get back to where it was.

On the outskirts of Columbus in the tiny town of Carroll is a perfect example of the American Dream. Brad Hutchinson started his business Company Wrench 13 years ago. With a high school education, hard work and a lot of practical know-how Hutchinson now employs 140 people. He specializes in heavy equipment rentals and said the economy was on the way back until it stalled this past summer.

"There were a lot of jobs slated to start and guys just put the brakes on," he said, adding, "a lot of what we're hearing from the industry is it's due to this election."

Uncertainty over the direction of the country is delaying construction projects and in the process slowing Hutchinson's business to the point he was recently forced to lay off seven workers.  He said he won't even consider hiring them back until the White House is decided.

Thirty miles to the north, in Reynoldsburg, Henry DiYanni knows all about hard economic decisions. At the height of the economic boom, DiYanni, a fifth generation home builder, was building more than 200 houses a year.  Then he hit the wall. DiYanni did not build a single home for three years.

"Unemployment means people don't buy washing machines cars and homes. ... This is a key. ... If we start doing the same thing we've done the last couple of years you're going to see the economy drop back down again," he said.

This year he has built five new homes, and he said he sees glimmers of recovery. As he stopped at one of those new houses to check the progress, he said he intends to vote for Mitt Romney this November, believing the Republican will better handle the struggling economy.

Inside the 3,200-square-foot home, carpenter Dennis Taylor said work has picked up in recent months. Unlike his boss he's firmly committed to President Obama, for whom he voted in 2008. 

"I think he's doing great and I'm sure he's gonna come up with some better policies and ... I believe in him," Taylor said.

The latest polls show that Ohio will yet again fulfill its reputation as the battleground in America. The race is close, but the president holds a slight lead.

Speaking exclusively to Fox News at the Ohio State House in Columbus, Gov. John Kasich said this election is all about the economy.

"It's not about whether Ohio's doing that much better," Kasich said. "It's this argument between Romney and Obama, who can do a better job of bringing the country totally back.” 

The Republican governor argues his policies, like reducing taxes and balancing the budget, has made the difference here, not federal bailouts.

"There's nothing else that matters other than the issue of jobs, the economy and prosperity," he said. "Who's going to deliver it?" 

That's music to the ears of Kim May. Remember, she was out of work and without a single lead on a new job. May started her own consulting company from inside the home she was once afraid to lose, converting her wood-paneled den into an office where she works the phone to develop her client base. She’s proud of the fact she was able to build her own business.

Being unemployed and faced with the loss of everything they had worked for gave May and her husband a new perspective on the important things in life, like spending time with each other.

In the evening they like to watch TV together, but there's no escape from the constant stream of political commercials, not surprising, given that Ohio has picked the last eight presidential winners.