Clinton Campaign Sends Bill to Woo Working Class

BOARDMAN, Ohio – Former president Bill Clinton brought his folksy style of politicking to the Mahoning Valley Wednesday in an effort to woo voters in an area that a decade ago would have required very little convincing.

The stop in this traditionally Democratic blue-collar stronghold was part of Clinton’s two-day “Stronger Together” bus tour across Ohio on behalf of his wife, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee for president.

“We have a colossal opportunity,” he told a crowd of about 150 people at the Operating Engineers Local 66 union hall on McClurg Road. “We just posted the 79th month in a row of job growth – the longest consecutive months of job growth in the history of the United States.”

Jobs, investment in infrastructure, upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid, and boosting opportunities for small business and college students were themes that Clinton highlighted during his 40-minute speech at a voter registration breakfast held at the union hall.

His visit comes as many voters in the Mahoning Valley – once a shoo-in for the Democratic Party slate – have defected from the party and embraced Republican rival Donald Trump for president.

“He’s the working man’s billionaire,” said Kenneth Calhoun of Ellsworth in reference to Trump. “He’s going to help the veterans and wants to build our military back up.”

Calhoun, a former registered Democrat, and several other Trump supporters stood across from the union hall with pro-Trump signs and anti-Hillary Clinton signs. “My parents were Democrats and I was a Democrat,” he said. “But, the Democratic Party has let us down. They went away from the working man.”

Recent polls, which as of a week ago showed Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton by three to four points in Ohio, have since narrowed. A poll released yesterday by Monmouth University suggests that Clinton now holds a two-point lead in the Buckeye State, making the race a dead heat.

Rocky DeGennaro, president of the Western Reserve Building Trades, said he believes Hillary Clinton presents the best opportunities for working men and women in the Mahoning Valley.

“Hillary Clinton believes we are stronger when we build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” he said.

Inside the union hall, Clinton was greeted warmly by the crowd, which included about 20 elected officials from Mahoning and Trumbull counties, members of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council, and other supporters and volunteers.

Clinton acknowledged that there is a high level of discontent among voters across America. “Look, there’s a reason for the road rage today. People have gone 15 years without a raise and they’re mad.”

But the former president said Donald Trump, who he refers to only as “her opponent,” advocates policies that would cut taxes for the very rich, favoring the “trickle-down” effect on the economy as opposed to what Clinton calls “invest and grow” economics, which is what his wife favors. “We’ve been fighting this battle for 35 years now,” he said.

Republicans have had control of the White House for 20 of those 35 years, Clinton said, but haven’t come close to creating as many private sector jobs as Democrats did during the 15 years when that party was in power. According to Clinton, Democrat policies helped create 32.3 million private sector jobs in 15 years, while a Republican-dominated government yielded just 15.3 jobs million in 20 years.

“Giving poor people the chance to work into the middle class, giving everybody a reasonable chance to reward them for their labor, giving people the ability to start a small business and keep it going – it works better,” the former president said. “Now, we have the chance to do it again.”

Throughout his speech, Clinton was composed and declined to directly attack Trump. Those stinging rebukes were left to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, who introduced the former president to the enthusiastic crowd.

“We’re running against somebody unlike anything we’ve seen before,” Ryan said, referencing Trump. Then, the Mahoning Valley congressman quoted his “little Italian grandmother,” who had a phrase to explain why she disliked a particular person.

“Due facce,” Ryan recalled his grandmother saying. “The guy got two faces. Donald Trump got two faces,” he declared.

Ryan, referencing a Newsweek article published Monday, pointed to Trump’s hypocrisy – pledging to take on China and Mexico on tough trade deals while at the same time purchasing steel and aluminum from Chinese companies for two of the businessman’s last three development projects.

“He didn’t go out and buy American steel, he bought Chinese steel and aluminum to build his projects,” Ryan said. “But he’s going to come here and say that he’s they guy that’s going to take on China. Due facce – you got two faces.”

Ryan also hit Trump on his record of his reluctance to pay contractors and construction workers what they are owed, and his refusal to release his tax returns. “He’s got two faces, and he’s trying to sell us some snake oil in the Mahoning Valley. We’re not going to let him sell it and send him out of here.”

Ryan then delivered a sharp warning to members of the trades and steelworkers about Trump: “He will gut you. And he will walk over your cold dead body, and he won’t even flinch. He’ll climb over your cold, dead body and get into his helicopter.”

Clinton took a much more reserved tone, emphasizing his wife’s call for massive investment in traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, as well as upgrades to 21st century infrastructure such as improvements to the electrical grid and Internet access in rural areas.

“If we build a modern, national, affordable broadband network, it would create enormous education opportunity and big-time economic opportunities for small towns and rural areas that have been isolated from the national economy,” Clinton said.

He pointed to communities such as Knoxville, Tenn., as an example how regions improving their Internet infrastructure also improve their competitiveness and local economy.

Clinton said among the biggest challenges is overcoming political gridlock in Washington and tackling some of the hard choices facing the international community. Hillary Clinton, he said, has experience in doing both.

“She has done a lot of things in her life always to make positive change,” he said. “You’ve got to pick the right change.” Borrowing a one-liner from a Texas friend, the former president chided, “If you don’t want somebody to drive a truck off a cliff, don’t give ‘em the keys.”

The real question in this election is whether voters should use anger and resentment as motivation to cast their ballots, or a careful examination of the answers to complex issues affecting our society, he said.

“It’s a question of whether you believe we’re better off in this election lashing out in anger or embracing answers,” Clinton said. “Are we better off voting our resentments or wanting to be empowered?”

Bill Clinton Works the Crowds in Youngstown, Niles

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