Old politics versus new is real campaign story

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2008

For those in attendance at Shawnee State University on Monday when former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, they got more than the usual political fare.

He talked about economics, health care, Iraq, education, special interests and other things that distinguished his wife from her rival, Sen. Barack Obama.

But more than the issues, the spectators got a first-hand look at what this race is really boiling down to - old politics versus new politics.

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It started with Rep. Todd Book, who began the introductions.

“We elected Ted Strickland and that was because of southern Ohio. And we can do it with Hillary Clinton,” he said. “This area has been called Riffe Country, it’s been called Strickland Country and we’re expecting that on March 4 it will become Clinton Country.”

Oh yes, the Clintons know perfectly well why it is such an advantage to have the Ohio governor in their corner. That’s because there’s history here. It was 16 years ago when Hillary Clinton visited the James A. Rhodes Athletic Center and on Monday her husband got to return the favor.

After the Clintons went to Washington in 1992, they found a Democratic ally in a newly-elected representative from Lucasville. And that started a working relationship between the Clintons and Strickland that could leave Obama at a disadvantage in this neck of the woods.

The influence of some heavyweight Democrats was in the air as the former president spoke in a building that was built by the wherewithal of the late Vern Riffe, Ohio’s longest serving Speaker of the House and a Scioto County native who was one of the most powerful political figures in the state’s history.

The Riffe-Strickland-Clinton connection was there Monday, accented by the comment made by First Lady Frances Strickland (which was met with thunderous applause): “Scioto County, look what I brought home with me!”

Riffe’s son, Scioto County Commissioner Skip Riffe, explained that his father and the former president were both members of the Democratic National Committee.

“I got the opportunity to speak to him earlier (in the day) during a stop at the American Legion. I asked him a question I already knew the answer to, which was if he remembered my father,” Skip Riffe said. “He said that he did and I offered him one of his books (an autobiography released last year). He said he would be honored to accept it and that it would be a nice addition to his collection of books on political history.”

What is understood is that in the general election, the Democratic nominee will have to pull Republican counties, many of which are rural and in the Appalachian region. The Democrats simply cannot win without them.

The Clintons know Strickland, who has a history of winning those Republican counties, is a tremendous asset. But the primary is different. Obama has organized a strong campaign and he has the Clintons on the ropes. They have to have big wins here and in Texas (and later Pennsylvania if it comes to that).

Monday’s stop in Portsmouth by the former president made it clear the old guard is showing its hand in southern Ohio where the upstart might have a tougher sell. And the question in one week will be obvious.

Will it be enough?

Rick Greene is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12, or by e-mail at rick.greene@irontontribune.com