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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2008

Columbus meeting hits on war, economy


COLUMBUS - Hillary Clinton wasted no time getting to the point last night as she rattled off the statistics.

"I know Ohio has been under enormous pressure in the last years," the New York senator told an invitation-only crowd of about 350 at Columbus State Community College.

"More than 200,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since George Bush has been President," she said. "We have more than 1 million Ohioans without health insurance. We have 90,000, 95,000 homes in foreclosure right now, and more than 150,000 [if you] take all of last year."

But while struggling in nearly every other category, Ohio is rich in one area, Democratic delegates.

Mrs. Clinton needs to win Ohio and those delegates on March 4 if her campaign against surging Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is to continue.

In an "I-feel-your-pain"-style reminiscent of her husband, the town-hall meeting focused on her plans for universal health care, to re-evaluate trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by her husband, to rescind some of the tax cuts enacted under President Bush, and to start bringing troops home from Iraq.

The largely somber, hour-long meeting was a sharp contrast to a later rally in Toledo designed to invigorate the faithful. The New York senator continues to lead in polls among likely Ohio Democratic voters, but Mr. Obama has narrowed the gap in recent days.

The story of Pam and Wally Ohert of Columbus was tailor-made for Mrs. Clinton's message on health care and Iraq. Having raised 12 children, five of them in or heading into the military, the Oherts, despite having health insurance, lost their life savings after Mr. Ohert suffered a massive, third heart attack.

She pushed her proposal to mandate universal health care that she took pains to characterize as a "uniquely American," public-private plan in contrast to national health care plans in other countries.

"Pam and Wally will pay forever, or at least for a long time, to get out of the hole they got into, not because of what they did," she said.

The message resonated with Sylvania Township native Kevin Weber, 24, a medical student at nearby Ohio State University.

"I've seen people in the free clinics that I've volunteered at in Columbus with untreated illnesses like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis," he said. "They don't have insurance, and it's really painful to see. I would tell all the doctors who are reluctant [to embrace] universal health care, how efficient is it going to be when you don't have to deal with uninsured patients anymore and you can focus on the care of your patients?"

"Senator Clinton can try to sell her tax-and-spend policies as solutions, but Ohioans aren't buying," said Rep. Mike DeWine (R., Fairborn), deputy chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. "Proposing outrageous government spending in a state facing an alleged budget crunch shows just how out of touch the Democrats truly are," he said.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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