The Clintons' unions dig in for last stand

Sen. Hillary Clinton, her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on the ropes after losing Wisconsin, looked to industrial Ohio to try to make a last stand March 4 with the help of organized labor. “Tonight I want to talk to you about the choice you have in this election and why that choice matters. It is about picking a president who relies not just on words but on work—hard work,” she told an audience in an industrial town high school as she sought to intensify her direct criticism of Democratic frontrunner, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

“I am proud to be a pro-labor candidate,” she said, making no mention of the potentially crippling loss she suffered in Wisconsin, which continued Obama’s undefeated string since Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.

Trailing in the national convention delegate count. Clinton finds herself with a lot of ground to make up and little time to do it. While she has already retooled her stump speech into a more populist, middle-class oriented message, her address reflected an urgency in trying to connect to working families as she continued to bash Obama's oratory skills.

Members of the crowd at Chaney High School held restyled Clinton signs that proclaimed "we've got your back."

“When I think about what we’re really comparing in this election, we can’t just have speeches. We have to have solutions,” Clinton said, again criticizing Obama as a candidate of lofty rhetoric but few results. “While words matter, the best words in the world aren’t enough unless you match them with action.”

Clinton noted “one of us has faced serious Republican opposition in the past and one of us is ready again.” Obama won the 2004 Senate seat in Illinois with only token Republican opposition from conservative firebrand Alan Keyes.

“Only one of us has spent 35 years being a doer, a fighter and a champion for those who needed a voice,” she said. “That’s what I would bring to the White House again.”

Also in need of a March 4 victory in Texas, where she heads tomorrow, Clinton focused headlong into vowing to rebuild the industrial Midwest.

“Some people may call this the Rust Belt, but that’s not what I see. I see some of the hardest working people in the world,” she said as she vowed new tougher standards in a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement that was implemented under her husband’s tenure in the White House.

Obama has hit Clinton hard over NAFTA, a particularly hot-button issue in devastated union manufacturing towns, contending that she did not listen to union complaints about job shifting across the border until late in the campaign.

“I’m not going to just talk about what’s wrong with NAFTA, I’m going to fix it,” she vowed. “My opponent has taken to attacking me on NAFTA. The fact is, neither of us were in the Senate at the time (it passed) and I’ve long been a critic of the shortcomings of NAFTA.”

Before her appearance, Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists, and Gerald McEntee, the head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees tossed some red meat to warm up the audience in this industrial town, but bordered on the controversial.

Buffenbarger’s unleashed a long rant against Obama, contending he was “not just a trained thespian but a terrific shadow boxer.”

“He pretends he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Great moves. Great motivation,” Buffenbarger said. “Brothers and sisters, I’ve seen (Muhammad) Ali in action.”

He contended Obama was someone who, “as he delivers his best lines…cocks his head back” to hear “his adoring crowd.” But Buffenbarger’s attack when on so long that the audience tried to boo him off the stage so that Clinton could make her address.

Buffenbarger’s union represented the former Maytag workers in Galesburg, Ill., a refrigerator manufacturing plant that was closed by the firm and its job shifted to Mexico. He said Obama, as a Senate candidate, provided no help to keep the plant open. Buffenbarger said Obama came to Galesburg to talk to workers on a day in 2004.

“Sixteen hundred workers and their families could have used a fighter that day. They could have used someone who was willing to stand up to Maytag. They could have used more than just a good speech and they barely got that,” Buffenbarger said.

“Barack Obama stepped onto that stage knowing full well that his was simply a well rehearsed act. He sang his song. He smiled and he waved. And he left those people floating on air until it closed,” he said.

Buffenbarger recounted how a major Maytag investor, the wealthy Crown family of Chicago, was also a major donor to Obama’s campaigns.

“For Barack so loved his own performance that he made Galesburg part of his presidential stump speech. That’s right, he’s damn proud of his performance. Well I’m not. All he proved as in like Janus, the two-headed Roman god of ancient times, he can act like a friend of the working man even as he danced to the tune dedicated by millionaires,” Buffenbarger said.

McEntee spoke for only a brief time and implored the audience to consider their choices on March 4.

“You hold the fate of the Democratic Party in your hands. In fact you hold the fate of this country in your hands,” McEntee said. McEntee described Obama’s campaign as: “First it was hope, then it was change and now his latest is words. Words do matter and then he does him imitation of Deval Patrick of two years ago. Sisters and brothers, they’re starting to find out about Barack Obama and more and more will come out.”


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