In Ohio Primary, Clinton, Obama Fight Tight
ONB COLUMBUS: The difference between the dueling rallies held by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, just miles apart in the Columbus suburb of Westerville, Ohio, Sunday, two days before the Ohio primary on March 4th, was most apparent in the tenor and style of each candidate’s rallying events.
Meanwhile, two polls out Monday, one from the University of Cincinnati, the Ohio Poll, and one from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, show the race between the first woman and African-American to run for president is very close.
The polls showed Clinton still maintains a slim lead over the Obama campaign, which has outspent her in media two to one and has reduced her one-time double digit lead to single digits.
The Ohio Poll shows Clinton with a nine point lead among probable Democratic primary voters, while the Quinnipiac Poll shows Clinton with a mere four-point lead over Obama.
CLINTON THE WARRIOR
For Clinton, whose mid-morning event was held in the gymnasium of Westerville North High School, the crowd was raucous and as fired up as the candidate said she was. Wearing blue and gold, colors that contrast with the Scarlett and Gray of the crowd’s home town favorite, the Battling Buckeyes of Ohio State University, Clinton forcefully urged the approximately 2,500 supporters who showed up for the kick off of her two-day “Solutions for America” Caravan” that would make stops in Youngstown, Akron and Cleveland by the end of the day and Toledo on Monday to vote for her because she was best able to make the kind of changes that Ohio and Ohioans need to get back on their feet.
“As we surge forward to primary day, I am looking forward to continuing to share my vision with Ohioans about my plans to create five million new good jobs, provide truly universal healthcare and end the war in Iraq,” Clinton told a crowd of supporters who were made of nearly all white men and women with children and who cheered wildly and held up signs saying Clinton was the “Smart Choice” for president.
Clinton was joined on stage by Ohio First Lady Francis Strickland and other local elected public officials like Paula Brooks, a Democratic Franklin County Commissioner. A media release from the Clinton camp said five mayors from small to mid-sized communities from across Ohio would start a grassroots blitz to help push her to victory on Tuesday.
Clinton said this race for president would be “the most consequential in history” and framed it as a “war time election” about leadership, domestically and internationally, that was not about change, which she said would happen regardless and “is a part of life” anyhow, but about whether “we are going to make progress” for America to regain its leadership role in the world, eliminate the tragedy that often results from people without healthcare or the funds to buy coverage, restoring the nation and the state’s manufacturing prowess and generally reversing the policies of President Bush and those who support them, like Republican candidate John McCain, that have weakened the US dollar and aided and abetted the decline of housing values that is roaring across Ohio due to the subprime mortgage crisis.
Touching on issues that Ohioans are most concerned about, like health care, fuel prices, education and jobs, she noted that 1.3 million Ohioans have no health care coverage, 60 percent have no college degree, that she saw gas selling for $3.68 in southern Ohio, the state’s poorest region and that the Buckeye State under the administration of President Bush has lost about 200,000 manufacturing jobs.
Speaking in the home of the Westerville Warriors, Clinton said she would be a “fighter, a doer and a champion” for Ohioans. “I’m not afraid to get into a fight on your behalf,” she shouted, raising her voice to overcome the din of her enthusiastic, cheering supporters. “You can count on me,” she said, pacing from one side of the stage to the other.
OBAMA, MASTER OF 3C'S (COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED)
A few miles north, the tenor of Obama’s Town Hall Meeting was markedly subdued compared to the Clinton’s event that had all the trappings of a pep rally before the big game.
Unlike the Clinton event, where everyone who showed up appeared to get in, the line for the Obama event snaked around the very new complex of Westerville Central High School.
The main auditorium of the host facility Warhawks could have seated more people who couldn’t get in had one full side of bleachers been opened up, but that space was allocated to national and local media.
The mixed crowd of white and African-Americans, young and old, male and female who did show up, patiently sat in their seats for over an hour waiting for the arrival of Obama, who had held an “invitation” only mini Town Hall meeting on the topic of energy in Nelsonville, a small town in the beautiful but economically hurting area of southeastern Ohio.
Seated in the audience were local political notables like Ted Celeste, Ohio Democratic Governor Dick Celeste’s younger brother who won his first term in the Ohio House in 2006 and who is rumored to be a candidate for House Speaker if Democrats can win four additional seats in the fall elections. Others were Marianne Harris, a long-time Democratic operative who ran an unsuccessful race for the House in 2006, Kevin Boyce and Priscilla Tyson, two African-American members of Columbus City Council, Laurel Beatty, the African-American legislative director for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and stepdaughter to Joyce Beatty, the term-limited House Minority Leader.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, co-chairman of Obama’s Ohio campaign was in attendance along with Kweisi Mfume, NAACP President and CEO who formerly represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.
Ceremonies were kicked off by Gail Channing Tenenbaum, a Democrat who rose to prominent during the Celeste years and as the legislative director for Public Children Services is widely recognized as Ohio’s leading voice and lobbyist for the social service sector.
“Parents now feel that their children will be less well off economically than they were, for the first time ever,” she said to an eager crowd. Channing-Tenenbaum then introduced West Virginia senior senator Jay Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, as the chairman of the US Senate’s Intelligence Committee, said things haven’t been okay since 911, based on information about terrorism he sees.
He said Obama has and that his intelligence was a matter of accumulated knowledge and understanding. “It takes an extraordinary person to understand and react to all this information,” he said of Obama’s “intuitive ability” that he said was a combination of “nuance and judgment.” Rockefeller said building foreign relationships is not a matter of “bombs and missiles, but about building relationships.”
“I trust him, and we need him,” the tall and imposing senator said before bringing Obama to the podium.
Obama strode to the microphone amid throngs of rapturous applause and shouts of “Yes We Can,” his campaign’s dominant slogan.
Following the stump speech he has given before that touches on his good judgment and the bad judgment of others, like Clinton and McCain who both voted for the war in Iraq, the need for affordable health care, housing assistance, retaining jobs in this country as opposed to giving tax credits to corporations who move them overseas, Obama took questions from audience members.
The questions, which went from boy to girl according to Obama’s own rules of the road, ranged from jobs to Iraq war veterans to financial help for foreign students, education, health care, what his criteria would be for nominating candidates to the US Supreme Court should vacancies on the High Court arise during him first term and jobs.
Obama responded to each with go-to talking points he’s used before, especially during the 20 Democratic debates he’s performed in.
For the last question on jobs, given by a very young girl, Obama said that was a good question to end on. He used the question to reiterate the building blocks of his campaign proposals. He said education, K-12 and college, was number one with investing in infrastructure, especially high-speed Internet access, number two. Third was policies to promote green energy and the green energy jobs that would be created. His fourth building block was directed at having a trade regime that looks after not just Wall Street but Main Street. His final point was to have a tax code that is fair so a “middle class could afford to buy the products businesses make.”
Speaking of the concentration of wealth due to tax breaks that go to the wealthiest Americans, a situation he said shows that prosperity is not broadly distributed, he said, to laughter, that “There are only so many yachts you can guy; there are only so many thousand-dollar a bottle bottles of win you can buy.” He said he would provide a middle class tax cut paid for by closing the loopholes that advantage the wealthy over everyone else.
Obama said the race to the White House and his competition with Sen. Clinton of late as been a long process. “People understand that the problem is not who has the ten point plan, because everybody’s got a ten point plan; we all have records. The question is who can bring the country together…and who will fight the special interest and push them back.”
Drawing a difference between himself and Sen. Clinton, who has said lobbyists are people, too, and entitled to their voice, Obama said the system needs to be changed, and that Sen. Clinton thinks lobbyists are part of the system.
“I will be honest with you about the challenges we face as a country. I will listen to you even if we disagree, and we will disagree sometimes. But finally and most importantly, I want make sure that you know that I will wake up every single day, while I’m in the White House, trying to make your lives a little bit better but especially your children and grand children’s lives better. That will be my focus as the president of the united states if you give me that opportunity.”
With one day till Ohioans out turn in record numbers, according to the Ohio Secretary of State who predicts voter turn out at 52 percent, the Obama campaign sent media a link to his two-minute “Leader” spot they hope will make his “closing argument to Ohio voters, outlining his plans bring an end to the divisive, calculated politics in Washington that have stalled progress on the great challenges facing our nation.”
“For the past four weeks, Barack Obama has met with Ohioans in every corner of the state, discussing ways in which we can bring back good paying jobs to Ohio, make health care affordable and accessible for all Americans, and make our trade agreements work for working Americans,” said Paul Tewes, Ohio State Director. “ Ohio voters will judge candidates based on who has been consistent about standing up to special interests and who is capable of uniting and mobilizing Americans of different viewpoints and backgrounds to finally bring the change this country desperately needs.” [Obama campaign “Leader” spot]
A TALE OF TWO VIEWS
Two members of the Obama audience, stark in contrast due to their race and age, were asked by ePluribus Media’s OhioNews Bureau (ONB) about why they were there.
Diane Rush, 73, an elderly Caucasian woman who was a retired occupational therapist, said that while she still hasn’t made up her mind yet, she hasn’t seen an election quite like this. She thought President Eisenhower, the first president she voted for in 1952, was the best so far because “he was good to his troops and he was a gentleman.”
Rush said what most worries her is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “I’m worried about NAFTA because I think a lot of our workforce is going over there, and they need to be here with our country. They (businesses that outsource jobs) shouldn’t have tax breaks and they should be encouraged to be home.”
She expressed concern about the safety concerns of workers overseas that she said are not as protected as those of workers Stateside. Asked whether Sen. Clinton, as the first woman running for president, has any allure for her on gender alone, Rush said it didn’t. “It has nothing. It has a draw because she’s a woman, but not strong enough because the country’s more important,” she told ONB.
Rush said she is worried about touch screen voting machines because she has her own computer and knows what can go wrong with it. “I can see how you can put things into it…so I’m going to ask for a paper ballot,” she said of voting on Tuesday.
Even though she has voted for Republicans before, Rush said she won’t consider voting for Sen. McCain. For her, the person is more important than political party. When asked about previous votes, she confessed, sheepishly, that she voted for then-Vice President in Al Gore in 2000, but then voted for President Bush in 2004. “t was a matter of fear. I was afraid of what was going to happen to our country,” she said, adding, “We all should be concerned about it (terrorism); we should all be alert and watch, but I don’t think we should let it put us in fear or make us make decisions because of it.”
Rush told me that she and her trained parrot, Angle, were on the David Letterman show several years ago, where Angle performed a summersault, the bird’s talents were enough to have her flown to New York at the expense of the Letterman show to show what Angel could do.
Seated directly in front of Rush was an undecided voter, an African-American father who was there with his young daughter to listen to Obama.
Gary Cosnia, an African-American and accountant with JP Morgan Chase in Columbus, said he has been learning toward Sen. Clinton. “I feel like I know her because I feel like I know her husband,” he said. He said is first vote for president was in 1992, when he voted for Bill Clinton.
He said he wants to “get a feel for him” and said that as they people talk about their differences, “I think they are very much the same.” Even though he confessed to having a bias towards the Clintons, he said he wanted to hear him really speak because “I wasn’t really that interested, but after seeing him on the debate, I want to learn more about him.”
As a professional for whom numbers is a key to his profession, the accountant named the economy his most important factor because of the house mortgage he has and his two children, one of whom is ready to attend college.
He said that even though he works in a big bank that’s not likely to go out of business, Cosnia said that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t loose his job, something that’s happened to him before.
Cosnia would like Obama or Clinton, should either be elected president, to “bring jobs back to this country.” He knows the reality of bringing back manufacturing job is going to be touch, but he said there has to be “some kind of jobs that can support a strong middle class.” At age 36, he expressed concern for middle-aged workers who have lost their job but still want to work. “We’re only a pink slip away from looking for that kind of job,” he said.
His daughter, Joie, soon to be 17 this month, said she hopes her soccer skills can win her a scholarship to a school so she can pursue a career as a psychologist. The young athlete, wearing her Westerville letter jacket, said she’s concerned about bringing jobs back and about social security. “I’m going to be affected by that,” she said.
Joie said she likes Obama because “he just seems like he would lead us in the right direction; he’s down to earth and would help the middle class.” She also said she “liked what he did at Harvard, and he’s positive.”
John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.
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