Election 2008

Ohio Primary May Be Key to Nomination Process

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For the first time in decades, the Ohio presidential primary may prove to be crucial. Even supporters of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton acknowledge that a defeat in Ohio could end her chances to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

Ohio is one of four states that will hold primary elections on March 4. Its 141 Democratic delegates at stake offer the day's second-biggest prize. (Texas, which also votes that day, has 193 Democratic delegates up for grabs.)

Ohio has one of the most sluggish economies in the nation. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have moved south or overseas. The unemployment rate is a full point above the national average, and Ohio is among the hardest-hit states on home foreclosures.

But the differences between Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on jobs and the economy have been hard for many Ohio voters to decipher.

Instead, the battle for the Democratic nomination seems to be about the old guard that touts Clinton's experience versus the new guard that touts Obama's vision. Many veteran politicos have endorsed Clinton, including the Ohio governor and one of the state's heroes, former astronaut and Sen. John Glenn.

Most Clinton supporters say they like Obama, but Clinton is more qualified. Then, there are a few Clinton backers who are more critical of Obama, such as tattoo parlor owner Renee Peril.

"For example, foreign policy — I don't think Obama has any experience with that at all," she says. "I think he has a lot of rhetoric that people enjoy listening to, but he has nothing to back that up."

The most recent independent polls show that Ohio Democrats are unaffected by Obama's momentum elsewhere. Clinton has virtually the same big lead in the state that she enjoyed all of last year. Still, freshman state Rep. Ted Celeste says that is changing.

"Don't mind the pundits who say there's this 20-point difference today, because you know what? That's evaporating minute by minute by minute," he says.

At a Columbus-area organizing meeting for Obama, more than 400 people turn out at a plumber's union hall. Most say it is their first venture into politics. Amanda Tuttle is one volunteer for Obama.

"I donated $20 to this campaign — first campaign donation I've never made in my life. I just believe in it," Tuttle says.

Twelve organizers in their 20s help the volunteers sign up to drive possible Obama voters to the polls talk up Obama among fellow churchgoers and offer their houses as crash-pads for the young Obama staffers. Some volunteers, like Jacqueline Downy, sign up to donate things to the newly opened Obama headquarters, including toilet paper, soap and extra computers.

One organizer gets the novice political crowd to experience a simplified version of a phone bank. He tells everyone with a cell phone to take it out and call a friend or co-worker with a pitch for Obama. Teacher Lori Weeyan calls a fellow teacher, while Kenny Martin calls a friend.

Obama's support here seems to be growing. A few days ago, two Ohio labor unions, with a combined membership of about a 100,000, switched their backing from former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to Obama. Still, both sides agree Clinton has the edge with less than two weeks to go.

Both camps agree that if Obama can pull off an upset in Ohio on March 4, it would seriously hurt Clinton's chances of winning the nomination. But, if she can hold onto her lead in the Buckeye State, and carry Texas, too, then the battle for the nomination will continue — perhaps all the way to the convention.

Bill Cohen reports from Ohio Public Radio



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