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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2008

Chelsea mixes cake, campaigning for mom

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Chelsea Clinton signs a bun as Ohio Sen. Teresa Fedor, left, and Tony Packo, Jr. watch. Chelsea Clinton signs a bun as Ohio Sen. Teresa Fedor, left, and Tony Packo, Jr. watch.
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Chelsea Clinton celebrated her 28th birthday in northwest Ohio yesterday.

She was greeted with cake and serenaded with "Happy Birthday" in the morning before a question-and-answer session at the University of Toledo.

She heard it two more times at stops at Tiffin University and Tony Packo's in downtown Toledo and didn't miss out on presents - getting a UT sweat shirt, Tiffin University outerwear, and a public compliment on her jeans.

The only child of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton was campaigning for her mother, whom she supports passionately as "a daughter, as a young American, as a young woman."

"I am fiercely proud of my dad and even prouder of my mom, which is what brings me here with all of you today," she said at the start of the hour-long visit at UT. "I hope you watched the debate last night and I hope you all have been paying attention and thinking who you'll support on March 4 here in Ohio. And I'm here to answer whatever questions you might have as you think about whom to support."

She fielded questions about energy prices, tuition costs, her mother's track record working across party lines, the war in Iraq, fixing the economy, and health care.

In a crowd of college students and university officials, and with the former first daughter not too far removed from her own higher education experience, the conversation about tuition was one of interest.

Ms. Clinton touched on her mother's plans to increase Pell Grant amounts and access to them, going back to a system of government direct student lending, making it easier to apply for aid, and creating a system in which public service could be used as in-kind payment.

"She'll do a lot to ensure that education again can be the passport for opportunity that we want it to be in the country at the community college, vocational school, graduate school, and the college level, and in making sure we're again standing up with and for our universities," she said.

She also talked about the education and retention of nurses, doctors, and teachers to combat shortages in those professions.

Stephanie Green, 20, a junior nursing student at UT, said she was hoping to hear about issues important to her and her classmates, such as tuition and health care.

"Making especially graduate school more affordable is a great idea," she said. "People are so far in debt after undergrad that they don't think they can keep going and get further in debt."

Similar topics arose at a question-and-answer session at Tiffin University when Ms. Clinton spoke to a crowded atrium in Franks Hall.

At the afternoon event there, she spoke about her mother's views on foreign trade, immigration, and the military.

"She truly is a role model for all young women in America and a huge asset to her mother's presidential campaign," university spokesman Lisa Williams said.

"Listening to her, I became overwhelmed with her knowledge and because of that, I cannot help but to believe, her mother is who she says she is."

Ms. Clinton rounded out her day in northwest Ohio with a meet and greet at Tony Packo's with a small crowd, many of whom held signs or had pins and stickers on their shirts in support of her mom.

Sen. Teresa Fedor was the first to greet Ms. Clinton and they chatted briefly about her mother's qualifications to become president and that she's needed to meet the tough challenges.

Alex Jacobs, 18, a senior at Northview High School in Sylvania, said he's trying to become educated on all the candidates before voting in his first election. "It's a great opportunity to meet the daughter of a president," he said after having his picture taken with Ms. Clinton.

While at the restaurant, Ms. Clinton signed two buns with "Go Hillary! Thank you!" to go with the ones her parents signed when they were campaigning for Mr. Clinton's presidency.

"We're honored in a way to be a spot for people to come," Tony Packo III said. "Anything with historical significance is kind of fun."

His father, Tony Packo, Jr., said Ms. Clinton was one of the most "genuinely nice" people he's met, ranking her up there with Jimmy Carter when he visited the restaurant.

The sentiment was the same from Jeremiah Smith, 21, who brought a sign with him to the UT event that said "Ron Paul for President."

He said although he doesn't support Mrs. Clinton, her daughter was polite.

"We're all Americans," he said.

He asked Ms. Clinton about her mother's plan to save the economy and said he was disappointed her answer didn't include cutting government spending.

"I don't think a Clinton-Bush-Clinton succession is enough change," he said.

While Ms. Clinton was obviously drumming up support for her mother, her message also was for people to get informed about the candidates and to vote.

"Look at all the candidates' Web sites and make your own assessments about who you really believe will make college and graduate school affordable, who will really grow our economy again, and who will stand up for all of us," Ms. Clinton said.

"I am passionately convinced that's my mom and I hope you will support her."

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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