Ohio Primary May Be Key to Nomination Process For the first time in decades, the Ohio presidential primary may prove to be crucial. Even supporters of Hillary Clinton acknowledge that a defeat in Ohio could end her chances.
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Ohio Primary May Be Key to Nomination Process

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Ohio Primary May Be Key to Nomination Process

Ohio Primary May Be Key to Nomination Process

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And let's talk now about the elections in the United States, where Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama both won Wisconsin's primary yesterday. Obama added Hawaii on the Democratic side. Now the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination shifts to a couple of states with a lot of convention delegates and a primary election March 4th - that's Texas and Ohio.

Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): Tonight, people around this world and around America have their eyes on Ohio.

(Soundbite of cheering)

INSKEEP: That's the governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland. We have more this morning from Bill Cohen of Ohio Public Radio.

BILL COHEN: 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 here is a full point above the national average, and Ohio is among the hardest hit states on home foreclosures. But the differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on jobs and the economy have been hard for many voters to decipher. And so much of this camping is not being fought over issues.

Instead, it's the old guard that touts Clinton's experience versus the new guard that touts Obama's vision. Many veteran politicos have endorsed Clinton. There's the governor and lieutenant governor, plus one of Ohio's heroes, former astronaut and senator, John Glenn.

Mr. JOHN GLENN (Former Senator, Astronaut): I respect her. I trust her. I like her, and she's experienced. And I think she's fully capable of being a great president starting on day one.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

COHEN: Most Clinton supporters we talked to say they like Obama, but Clinton's more qualified. Then there are a few Clinton backers who were more critical of Obama, people like Tattoo parlor owner, Renee Peril(ph).

Ms. RENEE PERIL (Tattoo Parlor Owner): For example, foreign policy - I don't think Obama has any experience with that at all. I think he has a lot of rhetoric that people enjoy listening to, but he has nothing to back that up.

COHEN: The most recent independent poles have shown Ohio Democrats unaffected by Obama's momentum elsewhere, and Clinton with virtually the same big lead that she enjoyed all of last year. Still, freshman state representative Ted Celeste says that is changing.

Representative TED CELESTE (Democrat, Ohio): Don't mind the pundits that say there's this 20-point difference today, because you know what? That's evaporating minute by minute by minute.

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

Ms. AMANDA TUTTLE (Volunteer, Obama Campaign): I donated $20 to this campaign, first campaign donation I've ever made in my life. I really believe in it.

COHEN: Twelve organizers in their 20's help the volunteers sign up to drive probable Obama voters to the poles, talk up Obama among fellow church goers, and offer their houses as crash pads for the young Obama staffers. Some volunteers like Jacqueline Downey sign up to donate things to the newly opened Obama headquarters.

Ms. JACQUELINE DOWNEY (Volunteer, Obama Campaign): Like toilet paper, they need soap. They need the whole deal, so I'm going to bring everything I have. I've got an extra computer at the house. I've got an extra printer.

COHEN: 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 a co-worker with a pitch for Obama. Teacher Lori Weein(sp) calls a fellow teacher, and Kenny Martin calls a friend.

Ms. LORI WEEIN (Teacher): This is Lori, and I am calling you from an organizational meeting for Barack Obama.

Mr. KENNY MARTIN: Yeah, I was just telling you to get out and vote for Barack. I would say that if you are going to be off Friday, go out to see Michelle with me.

COHEN: Obama's support here seems to be growing. A few days ago two Ohio labor unions, with a combined membership of about 100,000, switched their backing from John Edwards to Obama. Still, both sides agree Clinton has the edge, with less than two weeks to go. Both camps also agree that if Obama can pull off an upset in Ohio on March 4th, 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. For NPR News, I'm Bill Cohen in Columbus.

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