In Ohio, Delegates May Hinge on Job Issues

What does it take to win Ohio? Robert Siegel talks with Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz about the upcoming Ohio Primary. Labor and NAFTA loom large. And tempers seem to be on edge as the primaries near.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Over the coming week, Americans in every state are likely to hear more than they've ever heard about the politics of Ohio. Along with Texas, it's one of the two big March 4th primary states. And to use the cliche of the season, it has been seen as one of Senator Hillary Clinton's firewalls, a state where the demographic playing field in the state Democratic Party tilt her way.

Of course, the Obama wildfire has burnt through a couple of punitive firewalls already, and he is gaining in the polls in Ohio as well. But is there an Ohio difference that might revive the Clinton campaign? Well, Connie Schultz knows a lot about Ohio and writes about it as a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Welcome back once again.

Ms. CONNIE SCHULTZ (Columnist, Cleveland Plain Dealer): Thank you. It's great to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: And we should state at the outset that you are married to freshman Senator Sherrod Brown, who is a Democrat and neutral in the primary campaign?

Ms. SCHULTZ: Yes, that's right. He's staying out of it.

SIEGEL: So you're in a, as we say, in a committed relationship with an uncommitted superdelegate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHULTZ: Oh, aren't you clever? Yes.

SIEGEL: So, what is special about Ohio as a Democratic primary state?

Ms. SCHULTZ: Well, as you know, Robert, you have to win Ohio. Almost always, you have to win Ohio to win the presidency in the general. And in this primary, there are fights; arguments breaking out that no matter where I go, people only want to talk about the primary election. They want to talk about their choices, and they feel very strongly - and I'll be in the flower aisle at High Noon's grocery store and two employees will be going at it because they disagree about who they're going to vote for in the primary.

SIEGEL: Well, is it a cliche at this point that there are so many blue-collar workers with middle incomes, without college educations in Ohio, that the state looks ideal for the kind of demographic Senator Clinton was drawing well in earlier primaries?

Ms. SCHULTZ: Well, I was at a spaghetti luncheon yesterday afternoon that's sponsored by the AFL-CIO, just trying to get a feel for where people were. And she does seem, still, to have an awful lot of organized labor supporting her, a lot of workers. But there were definitely Obama people showing up at this. And you could hear the spirited conversations.

It'll be interesting to see what happens because Ohio tends to get closer as Election Day comes. No matter what the point spread is now, it's very likely it's going to close. I don't know yet what that means for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but I don't expect it to be a wide space between the two.

SIEGEL: I assume it was not accidental that we heard both the Democratic candidates - well, they seem to be almost arguing about who is really more against NAFTA than the other. Trade agreements are not stuff you run on in the Democratic primary in Ohio, I guess.

Ms. SCHULTZ: I think part of that simply is what's happened to workers in Ohio. And because it is such a big state, still, for organized labor, workers' rights here and abroad, you know, those issues loom large here. Because they do care about the rights of workers abroad, and they know that part of the reason so many of these companies have been shipping overseas is there are not strict workers' protections there.

SIEGEL: We've talked only about the Democratic primary because the Republican primary seems to be all settled. It's an afterthought at this point. But, has Senator McCain been out there or Senator Huckabee? Have they been around?

Ms. SCHULTZ: In fact, I think Senator McCain was in this building when I got in here today. I think he somebody told me that he was upstairs recording something. And he certainly has been in the state. I have not seen or heard anything of Huckabee being anywhere near here. One thing we know about Ohio is it really is like five Ohios. The Republicans who live up in this part of the state tend not to be as conservative, for example, as the Republicans who live in the southeast part of the state. So, you really are talking about even different kinds of Republicans, different kinds of Democrats, depending on what part of the state you're in.

SIEGEL: Do you get the impression that people from other states are now - that is, political volunteers - are now streaming in to Ohio for the primaries?

Ms. SCHULTZ: Oh yeah.

SIEGEL: Are they welcome? I mean, do Ohioans respond to somebody saying, hi, I'm from Philadelphia. I'm here to support so and so in the primary?

Ms. SCHULTZ: You know, I'd like to say we're a real friendly people here. And we are. But we really don't like outsiders telling us how we should vote. We haven't seen a lot of celebrities coming in, for example. That doesn't work very well in Ohio. And while there are definitely people coming in, I think we'll see more of that in the general than we see right now.

SIEGEL: Connie Schultz, thank you. It was great talking with you again.

Ms. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Robert. It was great talking to you again.

SIEGEL: It's columnist Connie Schultz of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, joining us from Cleveland.

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