The Democratic nominee believes progress is being made, and the region is on the path toward economic recovery. The Republican nominee is running for office for the first time, spurred from the private sector into action over the belief politicians have only made things worse.

These are not the nominees for president but instead the nominees for Ohio's 30th district senate seat, which includes most of Athens, where the incumbent Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, is facing off against his challenger, Republican Frank Hoagland. Unlike the presidential candidates, Hoagland and Gentile are not going to debate any time soon. A forum with the two candidates was planned by the Athens League of Women Voters but fell through.

"Gentile was ready to go, but Hoagland told us he couldn't do it," Dana Carlson, one of the directors for the Athens League of Women Voters, said. "We have a no-empty chairs policy, so if one person can't make it, we cancel."

Hoagland said he could not do the forum because he was busy on that date, but said he was still open to debating with Gentile.

Still, Gentile maintains Hoagland is not focused enough on Athens after Hoagland's campaign declined interviews with Athens-area media over the summer.

Hoagland said he has been campaigning in Athens but is trying to spend time in each of the 10 counties in the district.

Both men have balanced their work — Gentile in the state senate, Hoagland with running his business S.T.A.R.T., which helps with training for military agencies — with their campaigns. Gentile recently made an appearance at the Pawpaw festival, while Hoagland took part in the Parade of Hills in Nelsonville.

Gentile has served as a state senator for six years. Before that, he was a state representative. He believes the area he represents has made progress during his time in office and emphasized his refusal to bow to Republicans in Columbus.

"I've got a good record; I focus on what matters to people here," he said. "I have the support of unions, businesses and local members of the community."

Hoagland was less than impressed. The business owner and retired Navy Seal said he felt frustrated over the lack of progress in southeast Ohio.

"If we want to attract jobs, we need better infrastructure," Hoagland said. "Not just brick and mortar, but technological infrastructure. I still live on a gravel road. I thought we'd be further along by now."

Much of the local conversation on jobs has centered around coal. Gentile said he had a record of "standing up for the miners and not the barons," and he touted a recent endorsement from the United Mine Workers of America, a union that represents coal miners, manufacturing workers and clean coal technicians among others.

Coal jobs have increased in Ohio from 2,570 in 2011 to 2,923 in 2014, according to the National Mining Association. But coal production has dropped in Ohio over the last several years from a high of more than 28 million tons in 2011 to about 17 million in 2015. 

"I've met with a lot of coal miners, and they say that now they're supporting Hoagland for Ohio," Hoagland said. "I'm not supporting (Democratic presidential nominee) Hillary Clinton, who will kill coal jobs."

According to a statement from the Clinton campaign, Gentile is a member of the Hillary for Ohio Leadership Council. But when pressed on whether he endorsed the Democratic nominee, Gentile did not mention Clinton by name.

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"I'm supporting Democrats up and down the ticket, but I'm focused on my own campaign," he said. 

Hoagland is more enthusiastic in his support for the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and he sometimes wears a "Make America Great Again" hat.

"I'm not a career politician, and I'm not interested in becoming one," Hoagland said. "We need jobs. If it wasn't for energy companies, we wouldn't be the Rust Belt, we'd be the dust belt."


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