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Microscopic differences between the Democratic challengers make the primaries challenging for voters


By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Cleveland Correspondent


Loyal Republicans had it easy on March 4, 2008 as Ohioans and Texans made their way to the polls to select their nominee for President of the United States.

The Democrats on the other hand were scrambling frantically to sway undecided voters in their favor. The past two weeks have been very exciting for Ohioans, especially Clevelanders, and Tejanos también—Texas also has its primary on March 4. The city hosted an internationally televised, intense debate between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama at Cleveland State University on Feb. 26, 2008.


The week prior, the candidates, their family members and supporters hosted rallies, private parties, fundraising events and repeated rehearsed rhetoric hoping it will stick.


Clinton and Obama have infinitesimal differences between them and they tried hard to stand out from each other during the debate by addressing issues regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Universal Health Care, the War on Terror, and foreign policy.

Little difference in health care plans

With such microscopic differences, every comment, each nuance matters. Its delivery, the tone of voice or gestures, can turn on or turn off voters, ad nauseam.  


Clinton was sharp during the debate, complaining of always getting the first question and underhandedly suggesting that Obama is not receiving similar media scrutiny.


She attributed her agitation and combative tone to inaccurate health insurance mailers Obama sent out to voters in Ohio and other states. “What I find regrettable is that in Senator Obama’s mailing that he has sent out across Ohio, it is almost as though the health insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it,” Clinton said.


Obama retorted that Clinton’s assertions were also inaccurate, “If people in Cleveland or anywhere in Ohio end up seeing a plan that is affordable for them, I promise you they are snatching it up because they are desperate to get health care.”


After a 16 minute heated squabble, both agreed their plans are very similar and Obama added he was willing to sit down with Clinton and hash out details for a health care plan that will work for the U.S.-American people.  


Ailing economy and fleeing jobs

Fleeing jobs and a suffering economy are big issues with Ohioans and questions regarding her position of NAFTA had Clinton squirming in her seat.  “It has worked in some parts of America. It has not worked in Ohio. It has not worked in upstate New York,” she said and tried to shed positive light on her uneven record by saying she would renegotiate the terms to favor U.S.-American workers.


“I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s answer on this one is right,” Obama said, adding the option to opt out of the agreement, which should be used as leverage. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded by saying reopening NAFTA would be a mistake , but if it is, Canada would like to revise provisions that prohibit it from cutting off oil exports to the U.S. in case of a world wide shortage. 


Alternative energy

Clinton and Obama both are seeking to be pioneers of introducing alternative energy reform in the United States. Clinton cited Germany as an example and its success in establishing solar power and wind turbines to create millions of jobs, boast the economy and effective energy. “Last time I checked, Cleveland had just as many sunny days as Germany,” she told 600 people at CSU on March 2, 2008.


Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced during his State of the City speech [see page 5 of this week’s La Prensa hardcopy] that a German company is already scouting Cleveland for a possibly establishing wind turbines in the region and it will boost the Cleveland economy by millions and inject thousands of jobs.


At a Feb. 22, 2008 rally at the Convocation Center, Obama said he would invest in training people for such jobs, which will stay in Cleveland and can not be off-shored. “We want to put Ohioans back to work in manufacturing wind turbines and investing in solar energy,” Obama said. Jackson has endorsed Obama, and his support didn’t wane when the U.S. Senator representing Illinois called him “Johnson” in front of 7,000 people.


Troop Withdrawal and veteran care

Another point the democratic candidates agree on is troop withdrawal from Iraq, again with very minor differences. Clinton has set a time table of 60 days to begin withdrawing troops from the day she becomes president. Obama proudly cites his speech denouncing the Iraq War from the very beginning, saying it would fuel anti U.S.-American sentiment, increasing opportunities for terrorists to recruit. He also favors withdrawing troops stationed in Iraq but emphasizes the need to bolster U.S.-American presence in Afghanistan where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurfacing, stronger than before the war. Both candidates stress returning veterans deserve and should receive proper health care and benefits.


Clinton criticized Obama for only delivering speeches and not enough actions. She put Obama in the hot seat saying as he serves on the European committee that manages NATO and has done nothing to bolster NATO’s position in Afghanistan. “You have to look at the entire situation to try to figure out how we can stabilize Afghanistan and begin to put more in there to try to get some kind of success out of it,” she said. Obama response was he only became chair of the subcommittee to NATO at the beginning of 2007 when he began his campaign for President.


Education reform

Both candidates want to make college education affordable, decreasing student loans and making sure all students have fair opportunities for a good education. “If you are willing to do community service I have put forth a plan that we will forgive your student loans,” Clinton said at Sunday’s rally. At his rally, Obama made sure geographical location, racial identity, didn’t hold any child back. “We are here to say all children in America are our children and they all deserve the same opportunities.”


Race against Mc Cain

Various polls conducted show that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination he will beat John McCain with a significant margin. Clinton, however, will trail behind. Keeping with their mostly civil debates, Obama said Clinton is a formidable opponent for the candidacy and regardless of who wins the nomination it is imperative they win over Mc Cain and his attachment to “Bush’s failed policies of the past seven years.” Clinton says she will continue campaigning to the end and the question voters need to be asking themselves is who can deliver the changes they desperately seek.

Voters’ voices

Although the candidates are very similar in their stance and opinions, their loyal followers have strong feelings for one or the other. Obama’s grassroots’ campaign has reached out to young voters and energized them in ways Clinton can merely hope for. Obama has consistently drawn larger, diverse crowds, who describe him as inspirational, saying his approachability and humanity appeals to them. They are not concerned with allegations by Clinton of Obama’s lack of political experience. However, the Clinton supporters point to U.S. Congress as a possible roadblock that Obama may have to overcome.

“We have had leaders with substantial experience, look where that has gotten us,” said Erika Kuhn, a first time voter. For her, it’s endearing that Obama has not taken stances on controversial issues, like abortion and gay rights, saying he respects the individual’s choice. His background of being raised by a single mother tells her he can relate to the concerns and problems so many U.S.-American women face.


Dough Leich isn’t enamored by Obama’s charismatic speeches and his vote will be cast for Clinton. “She is passionate, intelligent and has what it takes to get things done,” he said. Ipce Maldonado agrees, saying Clinton is a strong woman and her vision for the country is appealing. “Having a woman president will drastically change the way things are run in the government,” she said.


Maldonado believes Clinton’s assertion that she will fight for the common person and says her record backs her assertions. She said if Obama wins the nomination she will switch her vote to Mc Cain. Experience she said is crucial for a President. “We need someone who will solve the problems right away,” she said. She worries Obama will not be able to pull the necessary strings in Congress to make his plans reality.

Brendon Petitto Jr.
considers himself to be independent and is not convinced he wants another Clinton in office. He said a joint presidency with her husband will not be the best condition to solve the numerous problems facing the nation. He will vote in favor of Obama but said if Hillary wins the nomination he may be tempted to switch to the Republican side.

Kuhn is convinced Obama will sweep Ohio voters and win the nomination, if not, she will find some qualities to like about Clinton. “I just want someone in office who can string together a coherent sentence and not make a fool of them self,” she said.


That is something all voters can agree on. While history is being made with the first viable woman and African-American presidential candidate, nothing gets the crowds cheering louder than the fact George W. Bush will no longer be in office January 2009.


“Things are so bad right now that the only way to go is up,” said Leich.


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