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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Debating The Site Of Ohio's Presidential Debate: Why Not A Small Town?

ZANESVILLE (TDB) -- The managing editor of Zanesville's Times Recorder is floating the idea of holding CNN's Ohio presidential primary debate in that small city in the state's economically stressed Appalachian region. Len LaCara now has support from Democratic U.S. Rep. Zack Space, who is running for reelection and jumped on the proposal as a way to show off his district, and probably grab a headline, too. Hillary Clitnon has agreed to a cable channel debate on Feb. 27; no word from Barack Obama yet. And no word on any location.

A small town would be a great spot, although it must be said that the candidates have spent a good deal of time in plenty of small towns already. They just finished nearly a year racing around Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states with early caucuses and primaries and significant rural populations. Still, it would be pretty neat to see the candidates in Gallipolis on the Ohio River, or Sandusky on Lake Erie, or Sidney, a manufacturing community north of Dayton near the Indiana state line. Ohio University geography professor James Fonseca calls these kind of places in Ohio "micropolitan" and says 22% of the population works in manufacturing jobs, a higher percentage than the state's big cities.

"Some core micropolitan cities have up to 40% of workers in manufacturing, which is extremely high and a very perilous economic situation since manufacturing empployment is declining so rapidly in Ohio."

LaCara says Zanesville -- his backyard - would be perfect for a debate because Democrats "can point to the region's unemployment rate, which is above state and national averages, and suggest approaches that will help displaced workers find new jobs. They can address gaps in health care and remind voters of the tremendous sacrifices made by Ohioans in Iraq."

They could do all that anywhere else, too. But a small town might mesh nicely with Hillary's likely strategy to win in Ohio -- she needs to tap into Gov. Ted Strickland's rural base, a patch of turf that could help her offset Obama's growing support in the urban, African American neighborhoods of the big cities. On the other hand, a debate site probably doesn't change any votes. People don't make up their minds because of the podium geography. It is, naturally, what is said in a debate that most impacts voters when they head out for the polling places. Still, it would be nice to see candidates get out of town and hold their Ohio showdown in a high school gym somewhere out in the sticks.

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