Full episode transcript: 8/31/12

ANNOUNCER [narration]: THIS IS NEED TO KNOW WITH …MARIA HINOJOSA …SCOTT SIMON… RAY SUAREZ … AND THIS WEEK… JEFF GREENFIELD.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: ON THIS SPECIAL EDITION…WIN OHIO AND YOU’LL PROBABLY WIN THE WHITE HOUSE. CAN THE DEMOCRATS RALLY THE FAITHFUL AND CONVINCE THE UNDECIDED IN THIS CRITICAL STATE?

BILL CUNION: We have been in a pattern here in the last decade or so where we have not rewarded incumbents the way that we typically do in the United States.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: ALSO, DID THE REPUBLICANS SUCCESSFULLY MAKE THEIR CASE TO THE NATION THIS WEEK?

TIM CARNEY: Romney really had to introduce himself to the voters. Not as ‘I’m a great guy.’ He didn’t have to make the sell that Obama made four years ago. He just had to say, ‘I’m an acceptable alternative.’

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: AND, WHEN CONVENTION SPEECHES REALLY MATTER.

HARRY TRUMAN: Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make these Republicans like it, don’t you forget that.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: NEXT ON NEED TO KNOW.

JEFF GREENFIELD: From Tampa, Florida, this is the second of our three special editions from the sites of the national nominating conventions. I’m Jeff Greenfield; thanks for watching.

With Republicans heading home, the center of the political universe shifts to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Democrats gather next week to make their case for a second Obama-Biden term.

But in a larger sense, the focus will really remain where it has been for months, if not years; the handful of competitive states where the election will be decided. And none is likely to be more decisive than Ohio. As we have noted throughout our election reporting – no Republican has won the white house without Ohio. And, since World War II, the only Democrat to win without Ohio was John Kennedy—and that by a whisker. By population, income, education, and employment Ohio is a near-perfect microcosm of America… which is why we explored Republican prospects and concerns there in last week’s program – and why we’re there again this week to look at the Democrats – whose theme song may well be “what a difference four years makes.”

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THIS IS CANTON—A CITY OF SOME 75,000, IN NORTHEASTERN OHIO…BEST-KNOWN AS THE HOME OF THE PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME. FOR POLITICAL BUFFS, ITS MAIN ATTRACTION IS THE WILLIAM MCKINLEY NATIONAL MEMORIAL, WHICH HONORS ITS LONGTIME RESIDENT WHO HELPED BUILD THE 20TH CENTURY REPUBLICAN PARTY…

BUT IT IS DEMOCRATS WHO ARE SEEKING TO RALLY THE FAITHFUL ON THIS CHILLY SUMMER SATURDAY…

STEPHANIE SWEENEY: You are going to make a difference. That is what this campaign is all about. It is about people coming together. About one person taking that step out of their comfort zone because they believe in the President.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: BUT THE QUESTION FOR OHIO DEMOCRATS IS WHETHER THE VOTERS STILL BELIEVE IN HIM…ENOUGH OF THEM, AT LEAST, TO GIVE HIM THIS STATE HE WON BY FIVE POINTS BACK IN 2008. AND WHEN THE VOTES ARE COUNTED THIS NOVEMBER, CANTON AND SURROUNDING STARK COUNTY WILL BE A KEY TO ANSWERING THAT QUESTION. WHY? BECAUSE IT IS AN AREA FILLED WITH THE VOTERS WHO HOLD THE BALANCE OF POWER IN OHIO.

BILL CUNION: Working-class white voters are the key to this election in Ohio.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: BILL CUNION IS A DEAN AND POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MOUNT UNION JUST OUTSIDE CANTON. HE’S ALSO A LIFELONG RESIDENT OF STARK COUNTY.

BILL CUNION: And they constitute about half of the Oho electorate. That is, voters who do not have a college degree, white voters who do not have a college degree, typically earning less than $50,000 a year. That’s the group that will decide who wins the state.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: AND RIGHT NOW, THESE VOTERS ARE VERY MUCH UP FOR GRABS.

JEFF GREENFIELD [stand-up]: The votes for a Democratic victory in Ohio come from places like this – the Timken Steel Company in Canton. The union that represents the men and women who work here – the United Steel Workers – is strongly behind President Obama. How strongly the members are, may be the key to this entire election.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: JOE HOAGLAND, PRESIDENT OF LOCAL 1123 OF THE UNITED STEELWORKERS, HAS BEEN AT TIMKEN FOR 39 YEARS, FIRST AS AN EMPLOYEE AND THEN AS A LABOR LEADER. HE SAYS ECONOMIC CONDITIONS HERE NOW ARE A MIXED BAG.

JOE HOAGLAND: 2008-2009 it was pretty bad, you know. Here we had, I believe, 475 members laid off for a while there and then, everybody was back to work– I would say by August or September of 2010, recalled. We were going gangbusters till– I would say, February or March of this year and things have slowed down again…

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THAT MAY BE ONE REASON WHY HOAGLAND ECHOES THE FEELING OF JUST ABOUT EVERY DEMOCRAT WE SPOKE TO—THAT OBAMA FACES A MUCH TOUGHER FIGHT HERE THAN HE DID FOUR YEARS AGO:

JOE HOAGLAND : People expect a lot from a president, and I don’t think a president can deliver and has no business making promises about. There’s too many variables involved. And- you know, things just haven’t gone well. There hasn’t been a lot of cooperation in the Congress so, a lot of that reflects back to him, fair or not, you know, I guess.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Fair or not?

HOAGLAND: Yea.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Does the Tea Party have some sympathy among your workers? // Government’s too big. It spends too much.

JOE HOAGLAND : Well, yeah, well, I think government should be there for the greater good. You know, and it is our money, the tax payers’ money. I understand that. But it– if nobody wants to pay taxes then we’re not gonna have anything.

JEFF GREENFIELD: When the union’s gonna be making its effort for Obama, what’s your central argument to your men and women?

JOE HOAGLAND: Well, we got to look at what he’s accomplished. Bailing out the auto industry well you know if that wouldn’t have been done I don’t know where we’d be right now.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S $80 BILLION DOLLAR BAILOUT OF CHRYSLER AND GM IN 2009 SAVED AN ESTIMATED 1.45 MILLION JOBS, INCLUDING 120,000 IN OHIO ACCORDING TO THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.

JOE HOAGLAND: You know, you’re talking about for every one auto worker job you’re talking eight to ten other jobs out, you know. I mean we, we do a lot of work for the automotive sector, you know, making steel, you know. I mean it’s helped us keep working.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: BILL CUNION BELIEVES THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA’S ECONOMIC RECORD IS AN ASSET. OHIO’S JOBLESS RATE – 7.2% – IS MORE THAN A FULL POINT BELOW THE NATIONAL AVERAGE AND HOUSING PRICES ACROSS THE STATE HAVE STARTED TO REBOUND, RISING 5.4% OVER THE PAST YEAR…

BUT THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN STILL HAS TO FIGHT AGAINST A DEEP-SEATED DISCONTENT THAT HAS SEEN OHIO SWING BACK AND FORTH IN THE PAST EIGHT YEARS – SIDING WITH REPUBLICAN GEORGE W. BUSH IN 2004, THEN DEMOCRAT BARACK OBAMA IN 2008 AND BACK AGAIN TO REPUBLICANS, WHO SWEPT THE STATE LEGISLATURE AND WON THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION IN 2010.

BILL CUNION: Ohio’s been a tough place to be an incumbent. I think it actually points more toward– a deeper level of frustration about life in general– in this area. So the lack of enthusiasm, the– the high degree of anxiety, even concerns about immigration, which is not a major issue here on the ground, I think all reflect– this frustration that has led, election after election, to kicking them out. ‘We don’t want you anymore. We’re gonna try the other guy. And then we’ll give him a year or two. And we’ll kick him out too.’ We have been in a pattern here in the last decade or so where we have not rewarded incumbents the way that we typically do in the United States.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: RANDY GONZALEZ KNOWS ALL ABOUT THAT. HE’S STARK COUNTY CHIEF DEPUTY CLERK OF COURTS AND CHAIR OF THE STARK COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY. HE LOOKS BACK ON 2008 AND SEES A CLEAR CONTRAST.

RANDY GONZALEZ: I think there’s not quite as much enthusiasm as-as there was in ’08. The expectations were so high at that time. But when you think about what he’s done, from Bin Laden to– saving the auto industry, –I still think that, you know, he’s done a great job, and– and the campaign has to get that out.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: GONZALEZ IS A LIFELONG RESIDENT OF STARK COUNTY. HIS FATHER WORKED AT THE TIMKEN COMPANY, A $4 BILLION DOLLAR STEEL AND BEARING MANUFACTURER THAT’S ONE OF THE LARGEST EMPLOYERS IN STARK COUNTY.

RANDY GONZALEZ: My father was a grinder at the Timken Company for 44 years. It was the only job he had. We wanted– came out of World War II and started there immediately, and retired from there 44 years later.

JEFF GREENFIELD: for Democrats, does Romney, because of who he is present a kind of an attractive target of opportunity?

RANDY GONZALEZ: I think he’s like peeling an onion. I mean, he– he started out– and I think every time they peel another layer, it’s gonna– he’s gonna become a worse candidate, at least for the Democrats. I think that he’s, you know, every layer just shows that he’s more disassociated with– with the working people.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: BUT FOR GONZALES, THE ELECTION HERE IN STARK COUNTY IS MORE THAN A BATTLE BETWEEN OBAMA AND ROMNEY — IT IS A CLASSIC FIGHT BETWEEN TWO COMPETING PHILOSOPHIES THAT GO BACK FOR A CENTURY OR MORE.

RANDY GONZALEZ: I mean, you look at Democrat philosophies and Republican philosophies. In Ohio, the big businesses that are locally owned by multi-millionaires or billionaires believe that, you know, if they’re doing well, that’ll all trickle down. We believe if the workers at those places are doing well, they’ll go out and they’ll buy cars, and they’ll buy houses, and they’ll boost the economy. So we try to do it from the middle up, and they try to do it from the top down. And I think that fits in Ohio quite good, because there’s so many large companies that are locally owned businesses. Like here, the Timken company is a– you know, a Fortune 500 company. As I said, my father worked there for 44 years, great place to work. But the upper part of that Timken Company definitely has a different philosophy than the union that represents the men there.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: AND THE TIMKEN FAMILY HAS PUT ITS MONEY BEHIND THAT PHILOSOPHY CONTRIBUTING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO REPUBLICAN AND CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATES AND CAUSES GOING BACK DECADES…

FOR DEMOCRATS, IT’S THE WORKERS AT TIMKEN WHO SUPPLY OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS, IN THE FORM OF GET-OUT-THE-VOTE FOOT SOLDIERS LIKE SUSIE CAMPER…

SHE’S AN INSPECTOR AT TIMKEN WHO’S TRYING TO REGISTER VOTERS AT THE ARCADIA GRILL, ONE OF CANTON’S OLDEST RESTAURANTS.

SHE’S ALSO A DELEGATE TO NEXT WEEK’S DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION. AND SHE TOO SAYS THE MESSAGE IS NOT AS EASY TO DELIVER AS IT WAS LAST TIME AROUND.

JEFF GREENFIELD: When you hear people pushing back, when you ask for Obama’s vote and you hear people saying either, “I don’t know,” or, “I don’t think so,” what is it they tell you? Is it fundamentally he didn’t turn the economy around?

SUSIE CAMPER: I hear that sometime, but right now, we have had a little turn-around. You know, we have people, especially in the private sectors going back to work.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: CAMPER THINKS THE ECONOMIC CLIMATE – ONE THAT’S GETTING BETTER – WILL HELP THE PRESIDENT.

SUSIE CAMPER: A lotta people that didn’t have jobs– their kids who didn’t have jobs now are getting jobs, which is good. You know, maybe not exactly the type of job they want, but at least some of ‘em are getting back to work. And hopefully, things continue to pick up.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: DEMOCRATS IN OHIO ARE ALSO COUNTING ON A “COMPARE AND CONTRAST” ARGUMENT…

THEY’RE HOPING TO WIN WHITE WORKING CLASS VOTERS BY LINKING ROMNEY TO THE EFFORT BY OHIO’S GOVERNOR, JOHN KASICH, TO CURTAIL THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES…

AN EFFORT OHIO VOTERS OVERWHELMINGLY REJECTED AT THE BALLOT BOX LAST NOVEMBER.

AND THEY HOPE TO PAINT A DARK PICTURE OF WHAT A REPUBLICAN VICTORY WOULD MEAN TO THE POOR AND THE MIDDLE CLASS.

RANDY GONZALEZ: The top has got wealthier and wealthier, and that middle class is sliding in the other direction…. And I think that spread has gotten bigger through every Republican administration. And here in Stark County we’ve lost a lot of businesses and that slide is scary, because I really believe if the Republicans would win this presidency– it would be, I think, devastating to the middle class.

JEFF GREENFIELD: For a broader look at Democratic prospects, earlier I spoke with Walter Shapiro, who has covered American politics for more than four decades, and who has written for just about every journal—living and dead. He now writes for The New Republic, for The Columbia Journalism Review, and for Yahoo! News (as I do). Full disclosure-Walter is an old friend. We were joined by Tim Carney, senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner. He’s the author, most recently, of Obamanomics—a look at the president’s economic policy that is, i think it fair to say, something less than admiring.

INTERVIEW WITH WALTER SHAPIRO AND TIM CARNEY.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THIS WEEK ONLINE, TAKE PART IN OUR WEEKLY POLL? THE TOPIC: DO POLITICAL CONVENTIONS MATTER TO VOTERS? LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK AND WHY. VISIT PBS DOT ORG SLASH NEED TO KNOW…

ANNOUNCER [narration]: THIS IS NEED TO KNOW.

Finally, consider: what’s the most powerful, influential form of communication flowing from national conventions? TV? Print? (as we used to call it)? Blogs? Tweets? Livestreams? For me, the answer is the same as it ever was: the oldest form of communication: the speech. Again and again, as a look back at DEMOCRATIC conventions past WILL show, it has been the speech that has given us memorable moments—and even Presidential candidates.

JEFF GREENFIELD: At the Democratic Convention in Chicago, in 1896, a former congressman, 36 year old William Jennings Bryan, rises to attack the gold standard in biblical terms.

WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN: You shall not press down upon the bow on labor this crown of thorns—you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

JEFF GREENFIELD: The speech so galvanizes the convention that Bryan winds up winning the first of his three presidential nominations. In Chicago in 1932—Franklin Roosevelt breaks with tradition and flies to Chicago—a first in itself for a candidate —to accept the nomination. The gesture—and the speech—mark something new in our politics.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: Pledge myself to a new deal for the American people!

JEFF GREENFIELD: In 1948, President Harry Truman gives a middle-of-the-night acceptance speech that persuades gloomy Democrats that he just might have a chance to win.

HARRY TRUMAN: Senator Barkley and I will win this election, and make these Republicans like it – don’t you forget that.

JEFF GREENFIELD: And, much to the shock of just about everyone, he did. And four years later, it was a welcoming speech by Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson that led to his surprise nomination for president—the first of his two. Ancient history? Well, just eight years ago an unknown state senator from Illinois spoke to the Democratic convention. You might recognize him.

BARAK OBAMA: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Four years later, Obama was accepting the presidential nomination.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: now There’s one more fascinating note about such speeches—not exactly encouraging about how politicians once regarded their audiences—THAT’s us—and how they might regard us now. Listen to this excerpt from John Kennedy’s 1960 speech—where’s he’s tweaking Richard Nixon by comparing him to other Richards as unworthy successors.

JOHN KENNEDY: For just as historians tell us that Richard the first was not fit to fill the shoes of the bold Henry the second, and that Richard Cromwell was not fit to wear the mantle of his uncle, they might add in future years that Richard Nixon did not measure up to the footsteps of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: now Can you imagine a Presidential nominee today trusting in his audience to understand these references to British history from the 12th and 17th centuries? I can almost hear his media advisors saying: ‘If you want to mention a Richard, try Little Richard.’

THAT’S IT FOR THIS EDITION OF NEED TO KNOW. PLEASE VISIT US ANYTIME, ONLINE, AT PBS DOT ORG SLASH NEED TO KNOW – AND TAKE PART IN OUR WEEKLY POLL WHILE YOU’RE THERE. FOR CONTINUING ELECTION CONVERAGE FROM OUR COLLEAGUES AT OTHER PBS PROGRAMS, PLEASE VISIT PBS DOT ORG SLASH ELECTION 2012.

NEXT WEEK WE’LL BE IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA FOLLOWING THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION THERE. OUR FOCUS – WHAT MIGHT THE FIRST 100 DAYS OF OBAMA’S SECOND TERM LOOK LIKE? AND, WHAT MIGHT MITT ROMNEY DO WITH HIS FIRST 100 DAYS?

THANKS ONCE AGAIN TO OUR FRIENDS HERE AT WEDU IN TAMPA FOR HELPING US PRODUCE THIS PROGRAM.

I’M JEFF GREENFIELD. WE’LL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK.

 
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