Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife in Toledo yesterday, giving a folksy but businesslike speech that focused on her plans for solving the mortgage crisis, for an energy policy that he said would create millions of jobs, for universal health care, and for ending the war in Iraq.
More than 750 people filled the boys gym at the Toledo Technology Academy in West Toledo - the former DeVilbiss High School - and an overflow crowd of several hundred more was in an adjacent gym.
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) are battling for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Ohio has 162 delegates up for grabs at the Democratic national convention. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are expected to make repeated visits to Ohio and likely to Toledo before the state's March 4 primary.
Mr. Clinton - who served two terms as president, from 1993 to 2001 - was about an hour late in starting at 11:35 a.m., but that was quickly forgiven.
After expressing admiration for all the candidates on the Democratic ticket, the silver-maned Arkansan managed a jab at Mr. Obama, who is known for his inspiring rhetoric.
"I think it's not a bad thing to be an inspirational speaker. I used to be a pretty good speaker myself. But what do you want in a president? Do you think that the speech that moves is more important than the solution that moves forward," Mr. Clinton said, standing in front of a banner advertising the rally as "Solutions for America."
He contrasted Mrs. Clinton's plan for bringing home troops from Iraq quickly with those of John McCain, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Clinton said ending the war soon would force the Iraqis to solve their two biggest problems: how to share the oil wealth and how to share political power.
"If we take Senator McCain's position we'd be there 100 years and they'd never work it out," Mr. Clinton said.
The crowd that turned out for the campaign rally was well-behaved and enthusiastic, breaking out often in appreciative cheers, shouts, and laughter. It included many of the more recognizable faces in local Democratic politics.
Absent, however, were U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.
Miss Kaptur, a superdelegate to the Democratic national convention in Denver, has not endorsed either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama, and in fact is behind an extraordinary effort to have the two take a bus trip around Ohio for a day and a half to experience "the real Ohio."
So far, neither campaign has responded to Miss Kaptur's proposal, which was co-signed by other Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio.
Mr. Finkbeiner said the reason he didn't attend the rally was because he hasn't made an endorsement.
He said he is writing a letter to both Democratic presidential candidates as well as Arizona Sen. John McCain, the probable Republican candidate, to request their views on issues that affect cities, such as funding for police, block grants, brownfield cleanup, and education.
Mrs. Clinton has named Mr. Finkbeiner to her Ohio Leadership Council of more than 100 elected and community leaders who will mobilize grassroots support for the former first lady.
But that was before the recent controversy in which Mr. Finkbeiner sent home a company of Michigan Marines who had come to downtown Toledo to train.
He said his appointment to a statewide leadership group in support of Mrs. Clinton "was a surprise to me."
"I have not officially endorsed anybody in the presidential race. I have talked to both the Clinton and Obama campaigns," Mr. Finkbeiner said. He said he is interested in Senator McCain's positions, but would likely endorse one of the Democratic candidates.
Mr. Clinton touted his wife's campaign as the best chance of gaining a universal health care system for the nation, and said support is gathering in the medical and business communities, too.
He sketched Mrs. Clinton's ideas for ending the crisis that threatens to put 1 million Americans out of their homes due to inability to pay their mortgages. Mrs. Clinton has proposed freezing people's mortgage payments for five years by giving governors money to negotiate with mortgage companies.
As an example, if a homeowner can afford only 60 percent of the monthly payment, the governor could offer a mortgage company half of the remaining 40 percent and the other half would be forgiven, he said.
"Every time a home is foreclosed on it costs the economy a quarter of a million dollars. It will overwhelm that economic stimulus package and catapult the economy downward," Mr. Clinton said.
He urged consideration of her plans for alternative energies and environmental building policies that would lead to jobs making biodiesel, batteries for electric cars, and installing and maintaining energy-efficient building systems.
The former president did some quick political math for the crowd that emphasized the importance of Ohio.
"This election has come down to Texas and Ohio. If you vote for her, I believe she will win in Pennsylvania and she will win in North Carolina," Mr. Clinton said, naming two large primaries that follow the primaries in Ohio and Texas, which is also March 4.
After his speech, the former president shook hands in the boys' gym and then slipped into the overflow gym and shook hands there, too.
Among those traveling with the ex-president around Ohio was Gov. Ted Strickland, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Mrs. Clinton.
The campaign swing that began in Columbus and flew to Toledo was to head for Canton, Steubenville, and Marietta before the day was over.
Spectators said Mr. Clinton did not disappoint them.
Jordan Nicholson, 21, edged his way into the crowd after the speech in order to shake Mr. Clinton's hand.
"I've been wanting to do that since 1992," said Mr. Nicholson who remembers his mother taking him into the voting booth with her to vote for Mr. Clinton's first bid for the presidency.
Nine-year-old Madison Jozsa, a third-grader at Ottawa Hills Elementary School, quickly took to her cell phone after the speech to call friends. She said she'd vote for Mrs. Clinton if she could after shaking the former president's hand.
Her grandfather, Ray Tarsha, 60, said he found Mr. Clinton "a very impressive orator."
"He spoke with zero notes for an hour and made very personal contacts with folks in the audience," said Mr. Tarsha, acknowledging that Mr. Clinton was preaching to the choir.
The first person to get into the building, at about 7:30 a.m., Linda Rygalski, 60, said she volunteered in Mr. Clinton's first campaign in 1992 but was physically disabled and couldn't help in 1996.
"I believe in what they believe in," she said, naming abortion rights as one example. She said Mr. Clinton "did a wonderful job" as president.
Gary Thompson, principal of Toledo Technology Academy, said the site was selected by Governor Strickland because of its identification with technical and engineering jobs of the future.
Mr. Strickland touted the TTA as "one of the finest schools in the state of Ohio," and said he told the former president about Toledo's expanding significance in research in "green" technology and solar energy at the University of Toledo and the nearby location in Perrysburg of First Solar Inc., the biggest solar panel manufacturer in the country.
Mr. Clinton visited Toledo while running for president in 1992 and 1996. He easily carried Lucas County in the general election in both years.
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