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DAYTON - Former President Bill Clinton closely compared his record with that of George W. Bush last night.
His conclusions? The 1990s were better than the 2000s - and his spouse, as president - could pick up where he left off nearly eight years ago when they left the White House.
"Look at this decade and compare it to the 1990s, not because we want to go back, but because you have to understand history not to repeat it again," said Mr. Clinton, while touting the qualifications of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton before hundreds of union members at the Dayton Miami Valley AFL-CIO Southwest Ohio Awards Banquet last night.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton will face-off against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Ohio Democratic presidential primary. The senators are vying for Ohio's 162 delegates at the Democratic National Convention, which could be instrumental in deciding the close race for the party's presidential nomination.
Last night's appearances in Dayton and later at Stebbins High School in nearby Riverside, Ohio, were the first on a nine-stop tour that has the former president traversing Ohio for three days.
Mr. Clinton's "Solutions for America" tour, where he is speaking on behalf of his candidate, will land him in Findlay, Marion, Mansfield, Wooster, and New Philadelphia today.
In Dayton, Mr. Clinton spoke about his wife's plans for tackling unemployment, energy policy, health care, the Iraq war - and trade agreements, a key sticking point for union members.
"Her proposal is no more trade deals for several months until the ones we have are reviewed," Mr. Clinton said, adding that Mrs. Clinton would rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, and establish a special officer charged with enforcing trade agreements.
"Upstate New York has been hit just like Ohio. Same deal," Mr. Clinton said about job losses. "We've got to enforce the trade laws."
His message of fair trade was well-taken by the union crowd, despite the former president's support for NAFTA during his presidency. Worker advocates and unions often cite free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, when placing blame for plant closings and job losses.
Pete McLinden, a lawyer with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union in Cincinnati, characterized Mr. Clinton's White House years as an overall "good presidency," although the former president angered some with his stance on NAFTA.
"A lot of people weren't happy with NAFTA, but those were good years in contrast with the last eight years," under President Bush, Mr. McLinden said.
Mr. McLinden plans to vote for Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday, saying he favored her experience over Mr. Obama's message of change. "I believe in change, but I believe actions speak louder than words," he said.
The underlying message last night was the union members have hope that their issues will gain traction on the platform of the eventual Democratic nominee for president.
Georg Wood, an employee of the city of Dayton and who is supporting Ms. Clinton, said last night that unions members "have issues that every American family has."
"We need to be represented in Washington by the top person in our country," Mr. Wood, 50, said. "They need to work for us, not corporations."
Georgia Nowlin, an AFSCME member from Dayton, believes Democrats have two labor friendly candidates in Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. She's sorry she'll have to cast a vote for one and not the other on Tuesday.
"We wish both of them could run together," said Ms. Nowlin, who wore an "AFSCME for Hillary" T-shirt last night. "That would be a nice ticket."
Whichever candidate wins, Ms. Nowlin said she is "hoping and praying" that the labor movement will be heard at the polls this year.
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