YOUNGSTOWN - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the draw, but Michele Bolchalk, a lifelong Democrat, was the rock star.
The Howland mother of four will, for the first time, today vote Republican - for Romney.
She proudly announced that to a crowd of about 500 at Taylor-Winfield Technologies in Youngstown, where the former Massachusetts governor stumped for support Monday.
"I make no apologies being a Democrat voting for Mitt Romney," said the 43-year-old, her announcement drawing the loudest cheers at the Romney campaign stop.
"I think he is the best person to turn our economy around, get us out of debt and get us back to a balanced budget," she said, citing the Republican's business success and time running the Bay State.
Romney, who according to a Quinnipiac poll released Monday has pulled percentage points ahead in Ohio of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum for the GOP nomination, ventured to territory traditionally a stronghold for Democrats with his visit to the Salt Springs Road Industrial Park facility.
"This will be a campaign about more jobs, less debt and smaller government," Romney said. And that will be the laser focus between him and President Barack Obama in November, he said.
Romney took about a dozen questions in the townhall-style meeting from a range of topics: retirement security, energy, the cost of college, health care and about the battle salaried-Delphi retirees continue to fight to restore their pensions.
Bolchalk wanted to know how Romney would make northeast Ohio appealing to her children and other youth to stay put.
"The best thing I can do is to make this once again an engine of job creation with new jobs coming and rising incomes," Romney said, citing the poor economic posture of the U.S. in the last few years.
"You've seen the median income in America drop 10 percent in four years, even as gasoline prices have doubled, health care costs have gone up, food prices have gone up. ... The best thing I can do is to help get good jobs back and to make this an attractive place for investment and growth again."
Liz Taylor of Boardman, there with her 11-year-old daughter, Alina, a sixth-grade student at Boardman Center Middle School, wanted to know about Romney's foreign and energy policies.
"In my administration, I don't want to see coal go away. ... I also want to drill for oil, have the oil that we need, I want to make sure that the natural gas that's here, that we have access to that natural gas," he said.
On hydraulic fracturing, the method of extracting natural gas and oil from underground deposits, already an industry that has provided a boost the Mahoning Valley economy, Romney said the administration's intent is clear: "They are trying to hold off the fracking of natural gas so they can drive the market toward solar and wind. Solar and wind is fine, except it's very expensive, and you can't drive a car with a windmill on it, so we're going to have to have these other sources of energy."
Mary Ann Hudzik of Warren, a retired Delphi salaried employee, asked if Romney could help bring to light the process behind the decision to terminate her and other employees' retirement plan.
Thousands of salaried retirees from former GM parts supplier Delphi Corp. saw their pensions cut 30 percent to 70 percent when the government orchestrated Delphi's emergence from bankruptcy along with GM's reorganization.
Retirees say the Obama Administration sacrificed them to protect union members who supported Obama's election in 2008.
Monday, Romney said the bankruptcy process should be re-examined, to "see to what extent the finger of politics was put on the scales of justice and see if we can't be more fair to the people who'd been a part of this process."
The crowd Monday afternoon included about 80 students from Lordstown and Austintown Fitch high schools.
Brendan Husk, 18, and Jared Enoch, 17, were among the 30 or so seniors attending from Lordstown High School. Both are voting tomorrow.
Husk, a Republican, said he liked Romney's demeanor and confidence. Enoch, a Democrat, said he likes Romney among the Republican field, but in November, he's behind Obama.
"Out of all the Republicans, he is my favorite, but him against Obama, I'd have to choose Obama," Enoch said.
Following Romney's appearance, a local auto union leader and the head of the Mahoning County Democratic Party slammed the presidential hopeful for opposing government aid to General Motors Co. during the 2009 credit crises.
Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714 of the Lordstown Complex West Metal Center, challenged Romney to debate him "any time right here at the union hall" about the bailout, which he said gave GM time to turn around its business.
The Lordstown plant, which is working around the clock with 4,500 workers to build the popular Chevrolet Cruze compact car, "is driving the local economy," he said. "Obama was willing to bet on the Mahoning Valley; Romney isn't."
Green preferred to talk about the successful Cruze and other GM cars instead of GM's announcement Friday that it will halt production of its electric Volt small car until April due to low sales, idling 1,300 workers in the process. Obama has made a priority of "green" energy such as electric cars.
"The Cruze is doing well, so we're staying focused on that," he said.