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Ohio Officials Explain Their Support for Clinton, Obama

February 29, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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New polls indicate Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama now running neck-and-neck in the former Clinton stronghold of Ohio. Two state officials discuss which candidate they support and why.

JIM LEHRER: And now, on the Democratic side, two important competing views in Ohio. Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: Ohio’s Democratic elected officials are divided in their public support for Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And while some made their endorsements just this week, two of Ohio’s best-known Democrats made their choices early in the campaign.

Cleveland Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones has endorsed Hillary Clinton. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman has endorsed Barack Obama. And they both join us now.

Congresswoman, why did you make the pick you did, and so early in the cycle?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES (D), Ohio: Hillary Clinton and I sponsored a piece of legislation called Count Every Vote to address the irregularities in the voting that occurred in Ohio in 2004. We introduced that legislation in ’05 and continue to work together on a number of issues.

In ’06, she was here pushing our legislation in a big rally out at a high school in my congressional district. And I told her, I said, “Sister, if you’re going for president, I’m with you.” And I’m a woman of my word.

I believe that Hillary Clinton is the best qualified person to be president of the United States of America. And I endorsed her back in ’06, and I have kept with it.

And I know people are talking about Barack Obama should be the president and my friend, Michael Coleman, and a lot of others, but I stick with my guns. And Mike — I know that my other colleagues, were they in a similar situation, would do of the same.

In politics, all you have is your word. And I’m sticking with my word.

Bringing unity to the country

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor Coleman, you had a big field to check out. And very early on in the race, you chose Barack Obama. Why?

MICHAEL COLEMAN, mayor, Columbus, Ohio: Well, first of all, let me tell you how much I respect Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones. We're very close friends, and I understand her position on this.

I picked Barack Obama because I felt it was important to bring this nation together. And as a mayor in his third term, I think I know what it takes to lead a community -- in his case, lead a country -- where what we really need in our country more than anything else is the ability to cross racial lines, cross ethnic lines, cross political lines, and bring people together to solve tough and difficult problems.

And I've had the opportunity to speak with both Hillary and Barack. And I felt that Barack Obama was best for the nation, best for the state of Ohio, and best for the city of Columbus. So I support Barack Obama.

And he started out some 20 points back, and we're narrowing the gap now. So this is a very important race.

But no matter what happens, one thing I know is that, even though Stephanie and I and others are not always on the same page with respect to this particular race, we're all going to be together at the end.

Representing Ohio's constituency

RAY SUAREZ: Congresswoman, Ohio has long been known for its rough-and-tumble politics. Have you been getting a lot of pressure from people at other levels of government, other members of the Ohio delegation, to change your choice in this election?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: What's interesting in Ohio right now is I'm the only member of the Democratic delegation that has endorsed any candidate. All the other members of Congress haven't endorsed anybody, the Senate or the House members.

I'm the only one out here, and I'm very comfortable with my decision. In fact, I've been out and about in my community for the last couple of days. And everybody I see walks up and says, "Hey, Congresswoman, how are you doing?" and hugs me.

So I don't know where the pressure is coming from for the other members, or other people in the congressional district. I'm out and about. I don't think they're afraid to say anything to me. But I'm not feeling it. And I'm comfortable with it in my heart. So I'm there.

RAY SUAREZ: Briefly, if it turns out that your congressional district goes for Barack Obama instead, might you have to reconsider at that point?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: You know what? Everybody is trying to say reconsider. Are they asking Ted Kennedy to reconsider his endorsement of Barack Obama since we won the state of Massachusetts? I don't think so.

And particularly the super-delegates don't have to be with who's in their congressional district or in their area. What super-delegate is, is a person selected by the party that has the wisdom and the understanding to use their own judgment. And my judgment is Hillary Clinton, and I'm sticking with it.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Mayor, on that same question, if Columbus, which is now Ohio's largest city, goes for Hillary Clinton, might you have to rethink how you represent your constituents when you head to Denver in the summer?

MICHAEL COLEMAN: I'm supporting Barack Obama all the way. I think he is the man for the job, the person for the job, and I believe he will be the next president of the United States.

I feel as if there is a movement here, and the movement is real. I look out into the streets of Columbus and people are knocking on doors, they're putting up yard signs, they're making phone calls.

And in central Ohio, I can tell you that Barack Obama is likely to win central Ohio. I am not sure what's happening up in Cleveland. And my hope is he'll win Cleveland, as well. I know Frank Jackson, the mayor of Cleveland, supports Barack Obama, as well.

So my hope is that we pull everyone together and we get this thing done on March 4.

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: And I want to say to you that I'm happy that I supported Frank Jackson for mayor and I supported Michael Coleman for mayor. And I'm confident...

MICHAEL COLEMAN: Yes, you did.

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: ... that Hillary Clinton is going to win the state of Ohio. And so I've got to get my line in, too. So it's going to be an exciting race on Tuesday.

Historic Democratic race

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor Coleman, you mentioned the volunteers, and you mentioned the people out putting yard signs. And there are reports coming from all over the state about very large crowds at campaign appearances, very heavy early voting, predictions of the highest turnout ever. Why is it so different this time in Ohio?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: This is an exciting time in America. People are engaged. And I will say this: Barack Obama doesn't own all the energy. It's the energy of what has happened in Ohio. I think finally Ohioans are focused on the economy.

We got lost in 2000 and 2004 on issues that had nothing to do with helping us bring our state back. People are focused on those issues, and they're ready to go. High unemployment, high gas prices, high college prices, 90,000 homes in foreclosure, everybody is rocking and rolling saying, "Come on, we're going to fix this," and they've chosen their candidate. Sorry.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor Coleman, are you finding the same push factors, pushing people to the polls?

MICHAEL COLEMAN: Yes, I think that the past seven, eight years have been so horrible in our country -- our economic situation, our international situation, our country is at a low level, in many ways, particularly Ohio that has lost some 200,000 jobs during that time frame.

So what's happening in Ohio is because of the energy that Barack is bringing to the campaign, and also Hillary, there is a great desire for change in our country, change in the state of Ohio.

And what I believe is that, in the city of Columbus, that the folks are knocking on doors for Barack, trying to get Barack elected. And this youth movement, this group of folks that have never participated in elections are now out there in a big way.

And they historically have not been counted, and they're standing up and saying, "It's the people first here, guys. It's the people first," a grassroots-up movement taking place in the city of Columbus and the state of Ohio, and that's a good thing because people want to be counted.

RAY SUAREZ: Go ahead, Congresswoman.

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: And one of the things that I've been trying to -- today I spoke at Case Western Reserve, my alma mater, to a group of students. And all the candidates were represented at this panel.

And I told them that they should not feel a distance between young people and old people in this country. You have to keep in mind what happens to older people happens to younger people and vice versa and that we have to be engaged in issues that affect us all.

And as the mayor has said, I think that Hillary Clinton has shown her leadership and ability to cross the aisle as working in the center for the past six years and, before that, internationally attending or visiting 80 countries.

But the exciting thing is that we in the Democratic Party have two great people to choose from.

MICHAEL COLEMAN: Yes, let me just say this, also, in Ohio. I think that hope is on a comeback. And what Barack Obama brings, not just good government and good policies, but the ability to effectuate those policies ultimately.

And government is good, bringing back good government. But in addition what he brings is hope and aspiration in our own lives that we can be successful.

And this is an opportunity not just to elect the president of the United States for good government; what this also represents is an opportunity for people to stand up and say, "I can make it, too." It's important to me.

Outlining policy differences

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor Coleman, earlier, both you and the congresswoman have talked about issues such as unemployment, the loss of jobs, foreclosures. Are what Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are saying in Ohio very different, so that your constituents and the congresswoman's would be making their choice on real differences between these two? Or what are they largely saying pretty the same?

MICHAEL COLEMAN: I think that there are some differences, but there are also a lot of similarities, as well. But I do think that both candidates have accurately described themselves, and this is a major distinction between the two.

Barack Obama has described himself -- accurately, I think -- as someone who brings people together to get things done, from various parts of the community, racial differences, gender differences, political differences.

And I think that Hillary has adequately and accurately described herself, a fighter.

But what I think that will make a difference for our nation is, especially Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., is all about fighting. And I think what the public wants is results and bringing people together.

Now, there is a difference here. And I think that's what the difference is.

RAY SUAREZ: Congresswoman, are there significant differences between these two candidates?

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: On most of the issues, there are not significant differences. And, Michael, I love the way you describe my candidate as a fighter, and she is, but she's also a consensus-builder. And she works very hard on behalf of people.

Her history, starting back to working on behalf of children, being a legal services counsel, and goes on and on.

I don't want people to think that you can paint Hillary Clinton solely as one who is combative. She's not combative. She is a consensus-builder.

And, lastly, I have to say in this segment, at least, that young people can look at Hillary Clinton and can say, "I can do that, as well."

We haven't gotten -- people can be proud. Martin Luther King would be proud that a woman or an African-American would be president of the United States. And Barack Obama doesn't own all of the pride that comes if America decides to elect either Hillary or Barack Obama.

RAY SUAREZ: Cleveland Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, lady, gentleman, thank you both.

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES: Thank you. Thank you very much.