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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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February 24, 2008 1:37 PM

Waiting for Bill

Posted by David Postman

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - I’m at a community center in the midst of a large undeveloped tract just outside of town. Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak within the hour.

There are hundreds of people in the gymnasium, all standing at one end around the stage.

I will be particularly interested to see if Clinton responds to comments this morning in Lorain, Ohio, by Barack Obama. Obama told workers at a plant there:

“Let’s be clear: It was her husband who got NAFTA passed. In her own book, Senator Clinton called NAFTA one of ‘Bill’s successes’ and ‘legislative victories,’” Obama said, referring to her memoir, Living History.

Hillary Clinton has since been a strong critic of NAFTA, though. The issue is paramount in Ohio. Gov. Ted Strickland, a Clinton backer, told reporters yesterday that Ohio and Michigan are the two states hurt the most by free trade deals that sent jobs overseas.

In the long line of people waiting to see Bill Clinton today, though, the former president’s championing of free trade was of little concern. Hillary backers were more than willing to consider the Clinton administration history in that regard.

“NAFTA was Bill Clinton’s,” said Irene Sapp. “But I think when it comes to that, they’ll separate Bill from Hillary.”

Oletha Zaborniak and Irene Sapp.

Sapp, 72, was in line early today. She’s been a backer of Hillary Clinton’s all along, but is clearly still a major fan of the former president.

I think he’s one of the more intelligent presidents we’ve ever had. He may not have the best common sense in some areas, but he’s intelligent.

Sapp also thinks Bill’s standing would be a plus to Hillary in the White House.

Her daughter was going to see Obama speak today. “You know, the younger generation,” she said. “I just don’t think Obama can get the job done like Hillary can.”

Sapp may have lost the younger generation of her family to the freshmen senator from Illinois. But in line she met a newcomer to the Clinton fan club.

Oletha Zaborniak is 73. She came with a homemade Hillary sign and a homemade Hillary T-shirt.

I’m a registered Republican and I’m crossing over in the primary because she needs me now.

What’s the appeal of Clinton to a 50-year veteran of the Republican Party?

I think she’d be a wonderful president and she has a wonderful ex-president as her husband, too, who will be there. And it’s time for a woman president.

Further back in line, Joanie and Gary Manning nodded when I asked if NAFTA is a big issue for Ohio Democrats.

“It doesn’t get talked about as much as it should,” Joanie, 45, said. There’s a factory in a small town near here shutting down soon and she worries about the economic fallout of that will be.

As Ohio voters they’ve been inundated recently with campaign commercials.

“So far they’ve been pretty nice,” Joanie said of the campaign commercials. “That probably ends today or tomorrow, though when the gloves come off.”

Gary works in an office furniture factory. His union of textile workers has endorsed Obama for president. But he’s a strong Clinton backer and says, “It’s kind of divided in the union now.”

There are unions backing both Democratic candidates and they will be a key in seeing which side will turnout more voters March 4.

Michael Van Wagner, an IBEW member, said he knows that most people have taken sides in the Clinton/Obama campaign. But he’s chairman of the Fulton County Democratic Party and he’s officially neutral.

He says NAFTA has destroyed many Ohio businesses. Does he worry that Bill Clinton’s history with the trade deal could hurt Hillary next week? He said it’s obvious that President Clinton was a champion of NAFTA, but he said Democrats should look at whether “it’s being enforced the way it was written. “

Between Akron and Findlay.

Fulton County is rural farm country in the northwest corner of the state. Van Wagner was here today to help local Democrats organize the Bill Clinton event. In his county there are 18,000 independents, 7,000 Republicans and 4,000 Democrats.

But two years ago, Strickland won the county. That was only the third time in 156 years the county voted Democratic, Van Wagner said. And he hopes that will convince Democratic party officials to campaign strenuously in places like Fulton County, where Republicans have traditionally done well.

While Democrats remain angry about NAFTA, he said that a lot of family farmers who register as independents are now equally upset with CAFTA, the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

“They’re saying, ‘Oh, this effects me now,’” he said. Even his own union officials have been skeptical of getting Fulton County to vote Democratic this year, but Van Wagner promises to continue to do whatever he can to make that happen.

In researching his county, I see its motto is “Aut Viam Inveniam Aut Facium,” I will find a way or I will make one.

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