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Postman on Politics

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

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February 28, 2008 8:11 PM

Clinton hears of tough life in Ohio hill country

Posted by David Postman

HANGING ROCK, Ohio - Hillary Clinton came to the Appalachian foothills to hear from people Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said “sometimes feel like life doesn’t give them a fair shake.”

There was a young, single mom going to college and working and a mother who struggles to find a way to pay for medical tests to figure out why her youngest child is developmentally delayed. Those two were invited to participate in Clinton’s event here. But the audience shared more tough tales of life in Appalachia.

A woman began to cry as she told Clinton of losing a job when the company she worked for shut its doors. She has no health insurance and has two children, one with disabilities. She has $16,000 of medical debt and, she told Clinton, “now we are living on $20,000 or less a year, which very much scares me.”

She’s a full-time student, who lost almost half her severance to taxes and still could lose unemployment benefits because she’s going to college and not a vocational or technical school.

“It’s like you’re stuck in that same rut and the government is trying to penalize you for bettering yourself,” she said.


Clinton at town hall today.

The Clinton campaign organized the town hall meeting as a chance for the candidate to talk about her plans for universal health care, expanded federal aid for child care and other anti-poverty programs.

There were 150 people at most in the gymnasium of the Ohio University Southern Child Development Center. But with the local, state and federal law enforcement and media contingent on hand, the crowd at the school was as big as all of Hanging Rock, population 279.

Clinton has been transitioning from larger events and rallies in recent days, but it’s unlikely she’ll find herself in any smaller towns than this before Tuesday’s key primaries in Ohio and Texas. The demographic was important to her campaign, though, as Clinton works to shore up support among the downscale Democrats that have supported her in earlier contests.

Strickland, a Clinton supporter who has appeared with her often over the past week, did well in rural parts of Ohio in his 2006 election campaign. Clinton tried to make a direct plea for his supporters today with campaign signs handed out to the crowd that said “Ted Strickland for Hillary.”

Would Clinton have appeal among blue collar workers, many of whom have fallen on tough times, in the river valley?

“I don’t see why not,” said Kenneth Lawson, 69, and a lifelong resident of the county. “I watched as she came in here today and she didn’t act or seem any more important than any of us here.”

Lawson used to work for a nearby chemical plant that shut down. He and his family run the Red Brick Bakery, which is one of four businesses that seemed to operate in Hanging Rock.

The crowd was heavy with Head Start workers from around the county and other child care workers and teachers. Johnna Lunsford and Teresa Robinson work for the nearby Rock Hill School District.

Lunsford is a committed Clinton supporter. She was convinced after watching Clinton and Obama debate earlier in the week. She said it was compelling to hear Clinton argue that making health care voluntary - as Obama would do for adults - doesn’t make sense any more than it would have been to make Social Security or Medicaid voluntary.


Robinson, left, and Lunsford

Robinson watched the debate, too, and attended a Bill Clinton rally in nearby Portsmouth. She says she’s still undecided about which of the Democrats she’ll vote for Tuesday.

She sounds, though, like she’s at least leaning if not teetering toward Clinton. She said she likes Clinton’s plan for expanded day-care and kindergarten programs. And for Obama, she said, “I think he’s an eloquent speaker, but I’m not sure he says much of substance.”

And like others in the crowd, the women wanted to show their support for Clinton’s decision to appear in tiny Hanging Rock.

“It’s a very small area and I’d like to think if she’s elected she won’t forget small towns like this,” Lunsford said.

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