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Ohio campaign journal
By Joseph Ryan and Vincent Pierri | Daily Herald Staff

Former President Bill Clinton spoke at a rally for Hillary Clinton at Lakewood High School in Cleveland on Saturday morning.


Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

This is Clinton supporter Vernon L. Finley of Cleveland.


Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

Hundreds of hot dog buns signed by famous folk hang at Tony Packo's Cafe.


Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

Hot dog buns signed by Bill and Hillary Clinton hang at Tony Packo's Cafe in Toledo, Ohio.


Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

David "Woody" Woodfill writes out one of at least 200 postcards promoting Hillary Clinton at the AFSCME union hall in Toledo. The 66-year-old has been a union member for more than 40 years.


Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

The Waffle House in Toledo, Ohio.


Vince Pierri | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/29/2008 11:48 AM | Updated: 3/3/2008 2:31 PM

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Slices of life (Monday, 2:31 p.m.)

Beyond the white noise of a political campaign - the choreographed rallies, well-worn stump speeches, superficial arguments over-talking on policy points - scream the fleeting images and impressions of real people.

They are the razor-thin slices of life, situations and attitudes that build upon each other to create this historic, and grueling, Democratic presidential race in Ohio.

The Parking Lot:

• A young woman driving a rusted, pale blue, early 1990s Geo Metro hatchback stops the car, reaches across the passenger seat and cranks the window down. Snow begins flying into her growling car. An bundled campaigner bends down and hands her a Barack Obama flyer.

The car lurches out of the large UPS parking lot, splashes into a pool of black slush. A young boy peers out the rear window at the campaigners and the large distribution facility near Toledo.

• On the way to her car after finishing work as a package sorter, a 21-year-old woman with brown eyes and a pierced tongue nervously talks to this reporter about why she hasn't yet made up her mind between Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Ashley Postma smiles when she says she just got married. The smile disappears when she talks about the Iraq war. Her husband just finished basic training.

• A Teamsters' steward begins screaming, his arms flailing and hands full of Obama fliers, when he is asked why he supports Illinois junior senator.

"People need jobs. There are no more jobs left here. Not everyone can be doctors or lawyers! Not everyone can wear ties like you," he says pointing at this reporter's $10 necktie.

-- Joseph Ryan


Commander of campaigning (Monday, 2:31 p.m.)

Former President Bill Clinton's voice is hoarse, but he stands straight, his right hand in his suit pants and his left hand jabbing a level finger at the crowd. His face is rosy and his hair is bright silver.

It is 11 a.m., and this is his second gym-rally stop of the day. The day before, he made five such stops and delivered the exact same 50-minute speech each time, right down to the joke about No Child Left Behind being so bad that even Republicans in the middle of rural Idaho would applaud him for bashing it.

The crowd of several hundred in this Cleveland suburb is entranced. A sea of faces forms a horseshoe 10 to 15 people deep around his podium. An enormous American flag is the backdrop.

His left finger steadily stabs at the air as he makes the case for his wife.

"You have to pick someone who won't forget the look in your eyes -- and she won't," he says. "She will never abandon you."

-- Joseph Ryan


'I got more' (Monday, 2:31 p.m.)

A man slowly walks onto the stage at a high school auditorium packed with Obama supporters outside Cleveland. He stands at the podium and looks up, but quickly looks down at his note card.

Before him is a sea of faces and about a dozen glaring TV cameras.

He begins to talk quietly, rushing through prepared statements explaining why he is upset with the local economy.

Then he mutters that he is voting for Barack Obama because the senator will fix it - drawing a thunderous applause from more than a thousand pent-up attendees.

He looks up - for the first time since he first began reading from his note card - and his eyes are wide. He cracks a large smile.

"You like that? He says. Wait, I got more," and he returns to the card before introducing Obama to the crowd.

-- Joseph Ryan


A child's love (Monday, 2:31 p.m.)

The crowd has been filtering in for more than an hour at this gym in a suburb outside Columbus. They are well equipped with yellow and white Clinton campaign signs.

Four women wearing pastel-colored shirts and graying hair sit on small plastic chairs. They had convinced a campaign volunteer to find the chairs for them so they could rest before the speech.

When Hillary Clinton finally comes to the stage, they are on their feet vigorously waving signs above their heads.

The crowd calms down. Clinton is telling them about an Ohio woman who died because she didn't have health care.

A very young girl is heard repeatedly calling out from somewhere, "I love you Hillary."

-- Joseph Ryan


Teacher's pet (Monday, 2:31 p.m.)

Obama asks the crowd at this town hall forum-style rally for another question.

In one section of the bleachers, a young girl springs to her feet and reaches her had to the sky. She is wearing a white Obama t-shirt. She is the only one in the section of about 150 people to raise her hand.

She isn't picked. She doesn't give up.

On the next question, Obama sees her and says, "You" and points. "I want to reach the younger voters," he says to the crowd, and they laugh in unison.

A campaign volunteer bends down so the girl can speak into the microphone. But she doesn't say anything at first.

"Uh oh," Obama says. "Its OK. Take your time. No pressure."

The crowd laughs some more.

"Jobs," the girl finally blurts. "Jobs."

She finally says there are "like" no more jobs and it is a very "significant" problem. The crowd laughs again.

Obama immediately launches into almost exactly the same 5-minute answer he gave the night before to a similar question.

-- Joseph Ryan


Pulling against the press (Monday, 2:31 p.m.)

Hillary Clinton may have gotten considerable mileage out of her appearance on Saturday Night Live. The opening skit made fun of both her laugh and the press' perceived favoritism toward Barack Obama.

At a packed gymnasium in a suburb outside Cleveland this morning, the crowd burst into laughter when a warm-up speaker mentioned the New York senator's performance. But there were also signs in the crowd that they do believe the press is on Obama's side.

A woman created her own sign - and held it high right in front of the press gallery - that encouraged Clinton not to let the press' "boy crush" on Obama slow her down.

-- Joseph Ryan


Clinton: 5 for 5, Obama 2 for 5 (Sunday, 11:55 a.m.)

If the marketplace for campaign buttons is any predictor, Barack Obama is a much more desirable candidate in Ohio than Hillary Clinton.

At each campaign stop, a few button hawkers inevitably swoop down on voters waiting in the long lines. Walking the rows of shuffling masses, they call out their prices and display their wares on large boards.

The sales pitch is the same, and the buttons all look similar if you switch out the candidate's faces. But the price is noticeably different.

At a Bill Clinton rally outside Cleveland Saturday, Hillary buttons -- union-made mind you -- were going for $1. But at the Obama town hall meeting later that day in the same area, the buttons were selling 1 for $3 or 2 for $5 if you wanted to stock up.

By that math, Obama is more than twice as desirable than Hillary, or maybe Illinois' junior senator just draws a richer crowd.

-- Joseph Ryan


The SNL factor? (Sunday, 11:55 a.m.)

Hillary Clinton may have gotten considerable mileage out of her appearance on Saturday Night Live last night. The opening skit made fun of both her laugh and the press' perceived favoritism toward Barack Obama.

At a packed gymnasium in a suburb outside Cleveland this morning, the crowd burst into laughter when a warm-up speaker mentioned the New York Senator's performance. But there were also signs in the crowd that they do believe the press is on Obama's side.

A woman created her own sign - and held it high right in front of the press gallery - that encouraged Clinton not to let the press' "boy crush" on Obama slow her down.

-- Joseph Ryan


In the mood to vote? (Saturday, 1:54 p.m.)

Stump speeches rock

The thing to know about presidential campaign stops is that everything is scripted and very little happens by accident or chance.

Take the music played to jazz up the crowd at former President Bill Clinton's rally for Hillary this afternoon in a Cleveland suburb. Each song can be seen as targeting a different voting bloc while at the same time reflecting various campaign themes.

Yet, sometimes lyrics in the pre-planned music on the stump can seem unintentionally bizarre in campaign context.

Hum these tunes to yourself and see what funny lines you can find and what votes they could swing:

"I'm a Believer," by the Monkees

"In the Mood," by Glenn Miller

"American Girl," by Tom Petty

"Highway to the Danger Zone," by Kenny Loggins

-- Joseph Ryan


Obama! Sign my buns (Friday, 6:44 a.m.)

It's not wise to campaign in Ohio and not sign Tony Packo's buns.

Toldeo's famous and homely hot dog and chili stop -- Tony Packo's Cafe -- is known as a must-visit campaign stop on the Buckeye trail. Hundreds of autographed hot dog buns line the walls. The signers range from the peculiar, like Lee Iacocca and Bob Vila, to the historical, like Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

George W. Bush signed a bun and so did Bill Clinton.

Ominously, Al Gore and John Kerry, the two most recent Democratic presidential candidates to fail, did not sign Tony's buns. They also failed to carry Ohio.

So it was smart thinking by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to have autographed buns at Tony's. Clinton's is on file from when she was First Lady, encased in a memorial plaque with her husband's bun.

Just in case, Chealsea Clinton stopped by this week to update the family's Toledo bun tree.

Obama, on the other hand, didn't show up. The Packo staff handed off one of the Styrofoam buns to a campaign aide, who deftly got it signed and returned. It is currently awaiting display.

Mike Johnson, assistant gift shop manager, said they don't like to get their buns signed on the sly.

"That kind of sullies the collection," he said.

But for Obama, he said it was allowed because Illinois' junior senator was tied up at a rally of more than 10,000 supporters when he came into town this week.

-- Joseph Ryan


Campaign 'till it hurts (Friday, 6:41 a.m.)

David "Woody" Woodfill has written about 200 post cards today and his wrist aches.

A University of Toledo hat pulled tight over his shoulder-length hair, he pens the message.

"Dear Union Brother," it reads. "As a fellow AFSCME member, I'm urging you to vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton..."

Woody has been a member of one union or another for more than 40 years and longs for the glory days of manufacturing in Ohio.

"I can remember when the factory whistles howled," he says. "You just don't hear them anymore."

Growing up on Toledo's east side in the 1950s, he recalls the hum and smoke of the huge plants. The Sun Oil refinery, Unicast, Kasko Mills, they're all gone now.

"You can thank NAFTA," says the 66-year-old. "Those jobs are gone to Mexico and China. How can you compete with 36 cents per hour?"

He's supporting Hillary Clinton. He likes her ideas for health care. He doesn't think much of Republicans or George Bush. "He's one strange ranger," Woody says.

A "political junkie" who's loved politics since he was a kid, the lifelong Democrat volunteered on John F. Kennedy's campaign even though he was too young to vote.

Handwriting the postcards gets monotonous, but Woody takes the edge off by listening to the Rolling Stones on an old Sony Walkman. He's likes the stuff from the 1960s best: Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and the Beatles.

"It's Geezer Rock," he admits. "But I still like it."

-- Vincent Pierri


Jobs key in Ohio (Friday, 11:48 a.m.)

Ohio creeps up on you quietly. When the invisible border slips passed, it looks a lot like neighboring rural Indiana and nothing like the packed suburbs of Chicago.

But off the interstate, you quickly realize you are no longer in Illinois. The same kind of strip malls line the roads, but they are filled with foreign signs that read: Rite Aid and Waffle House.

The talk here, of course, is nearly all election, as the airwaves are crammed with 30-second ads showing a warm-hearted Hillary Clinton and the same side of opponent Barack Obama.

You see Obama preaching to a stadium of fawning young folks. "We can," he says, end the war, fix health care, reduce pollution and create jobs. Clinton's ads boast the same, but she also claims she is the one who can actually deliver.

It's a blitz unlike anything seen in Illinois before its Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primary, as the two Democratic candidates try to reach each and every Ohio voter, as many times as possible, before this crucial primary contest on Tuesday.

Along with Texas, the Buckeye State is one of two possible final battlegrounds in the political war between the New York and Illinois senators. It is also a state accustomed to attention from those wanting to be president - a state often shifting between Democratic and Republican rule.

But the attention has clearly done residents little good beyond the excitement of frequent campaign rallies and the always informative blizzard of TV ads and colorful mailers. Ohio's unemployement rate is higher than the nation's average and it has been shedding blue-collar jobs like pricey diesel in the scores of idling semi-trucks that line the interstate rest stops.

So, it is these voters and this state that is in a prime spot to anoint the next Democratic presidential nominee, and perhaps the next resident of the White house.

Welcome to Ohio, where "With God, all things are possible," or so says the state's motto.

-- Joseph Ryan