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Clinton Targets Poor Voters in Appalachia

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Clinton Targets Poor Voters in Appalachia

Election 2008

Clinton Targets Poor Voters in Appalachia

Clinton Targets Poor Voters in Appalachia

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Sen. Hillary Clinton is visiting Appalachian communities in Ohio, which holds its Democratic primary on Tuesday. Voters there tend to be poor and less educated — a voting block that has delivered for her in previous states.


And for Hillary Clinton yesterday was all about Ohio. Today she'll spend more time there visiting Appalachian communities that have suffered poverty and loss of jobs. She's trying to stir the passions of white voters there who tend to be less educated. They represent a voting block that's delivered for Clinton in previous states.

NPR's David Greene is traveling with the Clinton campaign.

DAVID GREENE: Hillary Clinton yesterday flew from Cleveland down to Columbus then started driving east towards the foothills of the Appalachians and into Zanesville.

Mr. GARY STRAUSS (Zanesville Resident): Zanesville's a great community to live in. It's a quiet community, it's small, whatever. It's a great place to raise kids.

GREENE: That's Gary Strauss. He was waiting in the snow to get into the Clinton event. Strauss says he's had it rough.

Mr. STRAUSS: Right now I'm one of them unemployed workers. So I'm looking for a job.

GREENE: What were doing before you…

Mr. STRAUSS: I was selling carpet at Lowe's Home Improvement Centers and they terminated me in November. So right now I'm out trying to find a job. I will.

GREENE: But Strauss said he's frustrated with his government. He said he doesn't feel like President Bush had policies that helped workers like him. He said he'll vote in Tuesday's Democratic primary and he said Clinton gives him more confidence than Barack Obama.

Mr. STRAUSS: W. come in with no background 'cept being a governor. He's coming in with no background. We need somebody that's been there for a while. Just plain and simple. Somebody that knows what they're gonna do.

GREENE: Strauss is the kind of voter Clinton needs here. She has a lot of support among white working class voters around Appalachia. And while there are fewer people here than in the big cities, the campaign is hoping that by having Clinton here, she can nail down supporters who could make a big difference in a tight race.

The event in Zanesville was a bit confusing. The Clinton Campaign announced it was invitation only, then later opened it to the public. The line wasn't all that long. Volunteers were going after every last person.

Unidentified volunteer: Have you signed in yet? Can we get you to sign in and get you a sticker? Everybody has to have a sticker to get in.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, okay.

Unidentified Volunteer: Great.

Unidentified Woman #1: All of us need a sticker?

Unidentified Volunteer: All of us need a sticker. We need all the help that Hillary can get.

GREENE: Inside campaign staffers were still pointing people to empty chairs when things got started.

Unidentified Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the governor of the great state of Ohio, Ted Strickland, and Senator Hillary Clinton.

GREENE: When Clinton walked onto the stage, she didn't deliver a speech, but instead led what was a really a panel discussion. The format gave her a chance to talk much more about policy and her campaign's acknowledged that's when she's at her best.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): You know we hear a lot about the problems and they are serious. But I believe, for every problem, there is at least one solution. We just have to start acting like Americans again and roll up our sleeves and actually solve our problems.

Unidentified Woman #2: That's right.

Senator CLINTON: No more whining, no more finger pointing, let's get to work.

(Soundbite of applause)

GREENE: Clinton was sitting at a table with a dozen or so people, some local officials, some Ohioans with problems Clinton hoped to highlight.

Senator CLINTON: You know, I'd like to welcome Robert Landry and Beth Dlabay.

GREENE: The couple had one nightmarish Christmas when they lost their house in a foreclosure. The Senator asked the couple to talk about their experience.

Mr. ROBERT LANDRY (foreclosure victim): And you feel alone. The bottom drops out of your whole life, you know, you think you're doing the right thing and then it's all over.

Senator CLINTON: Beth, do you want to add anything to what Robert said?

Ms. BETH DLABAY (foreclosure victim): It was just really difficult because in the meantime, our granddaughter that was living with us had to undergo open heart surgery.

GREENE: Clinton said she wants to fight in the White House for people like this couple.

Senator CLINTON: Change does take consistent, concerted effort, but the real question for us is not whether change will happen. Change is gonna happen whether we want it or not. Change is a part of life. It's whether progress will happen.

GREENE: That's a message Clinton will take to other Appalachian communities this morning before going on to Texas tonight. Even though southeast Ohio isn't the most populous part of the state, it's full of voters Clinton will need on Tuesday to carry Ohio.

David Greene, NPR News, with the Clinton Campaign.

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What's at Stake in the March 4 Primaries?

To view a photo gallery of the presidential candidates leading up to the March 4 primaries. hide caption

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Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally on Feb. 19 in Youngstown, Ohio. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images hide caption

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Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally on Feb. 19 in Youngstown, Ohio.

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Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a primary campaign rally at the Toyota Center on Feb. 19 in Houston, Texas. Dave Einsel/Getty Images hide caption

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Dave Einsel/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a primary campaign rally at the Toyota Center on Feb. 19 in Houston, Texas.

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Read a State-by-State Analysis of March 4 Primaries:

Republican Sen. John McCain greets supporters while leaving Charlie's Restaurant on Feb. 21 in Perrysburg, Ohio. J.D. Pooley/Getty Images hide caption

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J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

Republican Sen. John McCain greets supporters while leaving Charlie's Restaurant on Feb. 21 in Perrysburg, Ohio.

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

The Democratic primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont on March 4 are seen as make-or-break for the presidential campaign of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Clinton needs to triumph in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio to halt the momentum of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has won 11 consecutive nominating contests since Super Tuesday (including the Virgin Islands and the Democrats Abroad Global Primary). Even her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has said that Texas and Ohio are must-win states if she is going to have a chance at taking the nomination.

For Obama, a successful March 4 could help nudge him toward the nomination and solidify the growing perception that he is the party's front-runner. He will still have to court the roughly 800 Democratic superdelegates, who act as free agents and who can vote for either candidate, regardless of their state's popular vote. (Both Obama and Clinton have been wooing the superdelegates relentlessly.)

The two candidates have been campaigning heavily in Texas (193 delegates) and Ohio (141), focusing especially on those states' respective Hispanic and working-class voters through rallies and advertisements.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain has swept recent primaries in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin, and now delivers speeches with the confidence of a man who is certain to be his party's nominee.

But a recent New York Times article proved to be a major distraction. The article outlined McCain's allegedly close relationship with a female lobbyist, with hints of a friendship that went beyond the professional. (Some commentators make the argument that for someone who stakes his reputation on his honesty and "straight talk," the article has the potential to prove damaging. Others say the story could ultimately help McCain with more conservative Republicans by making the argument that it was an effort by the liberal media to hurt the Arizona senator's prospects.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remains a candidate, though since Super Tuesday, when he did well in the South, he has won in just two states, Louisiana and Kansas. (Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who has not won anywhere, is staying in the race as well, though he faces a challenge back home for his House seat in the March 4 primary.) Huckabee has said he will continue as a candidate until he or McCain has the 1,191 delegates needed to officially capture the nomination.

The Candidates

The Democrats: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama

The Republicans: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul


The Democrats: Clinton is hoping that her strong ties to Texas will give her a boost. She worked in the Rio Grande Valley 35 years ago, registering voters — a fact she often mentions on local campaign stops. Texans also did well under the Bill Clinton White House, earning posts in the Treasury, Energy and Interior departments, along with two ambassadorships.

But Obama is on a roll. The night of Feb. 19, when he was declaring victory in the Wisconsin primary, he did so from Houston — signifying the importance he places on the state. Texas has an odd dual primary/caucus system, and Obama has done very well in states that hold caucuses; in fact, with the exception of Nevada, he has swept every caucus state.

New Texas polls show the two candidates locked in a dead heat.

Texas Democrats must vote in their senatorial districts by ballot, and then also attend a caucus immediately after the polls close. One hundred and twenty-six delegates will be awarded based on the primary, while 42 Democratic delegates will come from the caucus.

The Republicans: Arizona Sen. John McCain has been popular with Hispanics since he co-authored the ultimately unsuccessful immigration bill that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Huckabee, whose record also shows a more moderate viewpoint on immigration than some others in the party would prefer, has been campaigning in Houston and San Antonio.

Hispanics are the key demographic to court in Texas and could make up as much as 40 percent of the total electorate. The candidates have been running Spanish-language ads; the Feb. 21 Democratic debate in Austin was co-sponsored by the Spanish television network Univision.

Another key demographic: African-American voters, expected to be 25 percent of the primary electorate.


Ohio's sluggish economy is the key issue in the upcoming primary; unemployment in the Buckeye State is greater than in any state in the region other than Michigan. Candidates of both parties have talked about their plans to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Hundreds of thousands of Ohio's manufacturing jobs have left the area. The state has also been hit hard by high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates.

The Democrats: A recent poll seems to suggest that Obama's support in the Buckeye State is increasing, though Clinton appears to be holding a lead, however tenuous. 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. The Illinois senator also has received the national backing of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents more than 1 million truck drivers and warehouse workers. Obama's plans for affordable health care, as well as tax credits for low- and middle-income workers and seniors, could appeal to the state's working class.

Clinton has also campaigned in Ohio, most recently in Youngstown and Columbus. She is hoping to appeal to women and working-class voters, who have made up her base in past primaries. Her health care plan calls for universal coverage, and she has proposed a $70 billion economic stimulus plan that includes a moratorium on foreclosures and an assistance fund for at-risk borrowers. Clinton has started running ads that appeal to blue-collar workers. Her latest Ohio ad begins with the phrase: "You pour coffee, fix hair. You work the night shift at the local hospital. You're often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes overlooked...She understands."

Ohio is not used to playing a decisive role in the nominating process. The last time that happened was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter's victory in the June primary state effectively awarded him the Democratic presidential nomination.


The Democrats: The Clinton name holds much weight in Rhode Island, a state that Hillary Clinton often visited with her husband when he was president. She also has helped fundraise for several state politicians who double as superdelegates, including U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Providence Mayor David Cicciline.

But as Obama keeps building momentum in his campaign, the question becomes: Will he make inroads into Clinton's base? Michelle Obama spent an afternoon campaigning in Rhode Island, where her brother is a basketball coach at Brown University. Providence is a college town, and its university-age voters are overwhelmingly supporting Obama.

The Republicans: McCain visited Rhode Island in mid-February to try to appeal to New England's more moderate Republicans. He won Rhode Island's 2000 presidential primary with 60 percent of the vote.


The candidates have not made Vermont a major priority in this March 4 contest: It offers just 15 Democratic delegates and 19 GOP delegates.

The Democrats: None of the candidates have campaigned in the state so far. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Vermont Democrats have far surpassed the state's Republicans in fundraising for this election cycle, with $1.4 million going to Democratic candidates and $322,000 to Republicans.

University of Vermont political scientist Garrison Nelson predicts that Obama will do well in the state, since Vermont has a history of supporting maverick candidates, such as Howard Dean in 2000. (Vermont also has a senator who is an independent.)

The Republicans: McCain recently made a quick campaign stop. Huckabee is not expected to do well and is not targeting the state.

Vermont has an open primary, meaning residents can cross party lines to vote for the candidate of their choice.