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Government & Politics

What Four-Letter Midwestern State is Holding Presidential Caucuses? Nope. It's the Other One

Passing out ballots

This is the place where they choose the people who wear the crazy hats on the convention floor, get wildly passionate about an event others dismiss as political theater – and who – paraphrasing vaudevillian W.C. Fields --  would rather be in Philadelphia ...  even in July.

On a cold January night...
Roughly 200 people gathered in the school auditorium in the political swing county of Stark. They came from nearly all of the 10 far-flung counties – from Lorain to Coshocton -- that make up the 7th Congressional District.

A glimpse of the crowd
Credit M.L. Schultze / wksu
About 200 people attended.

All Democrats. Many in unions. And most convinced the future of American democracy rests with regular people – like Tony Towensend of Massillon -- staking their place in American politics.

“I’m a dedicated Democrat. They’re about helping people. Mainly that’s one of the major things that I enjoy about the party. I’m a licensed social worker, so that’s what I went to school for is to help people.”

Doing the math

Tony Towensend
Tony Towensend

Across the state, Democrats were picking 97 delegates and nine alternates to this summer’s convention in Philadelphia.

In Stark, it came down to picking two slates of four people – two women and two men each  – from a total of 24 candidates.

One slate for Bernie Sanders. One for Hillary Clinton.

Each of the would-be delegates got a minute to make their pitch to a room full of Bernie supporters or a room full of Hillary supporters. Frank Matthews made the trip up from Coshocton to talk about Sanders.

“The middle class in this country is tired of business as usual politics. We’re getting trampled and squeezed. Millionaires and CEOs are the ones writing the laws in D.C. ...” 

Whether it was the speech or his being a director with the Communication Workers of America – the first union to back Sanders -- Matthews got the votes he needed.

'I got a chance to go to the national convention when Obama won the first time and I sent the inauguration the second time.'

A mixed couple
Beth and Kerry Ramsey of Medina County split up. She headed to the Bernie room.

“The world is disheveled right now and he brings me peace and he brings me calm and I know he’ll do it right.”

Her husband doesn’t disagree. After all, he’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

“But Hillary, when she testified in the last Benghazi hearing, that really closed the deal. I came back into her court. Because she presented this very strong and dignified type responses and positions that she took and I thought she came across as very presidential and strong.”

Experience and motivation 

Kerry and Beth Ramsey
Kerry Ramsey says the Benghazi hearings sold him on Hillary. Beth Ramsey is supporting Bernie.

The rooms were filled with people with a wide-range of political experience and motivations – as well as geography.

Lydia Lee of Canton would not give her age but she says she’s never missed an election, and that that’s a lot of elections.

“I’m the daughter of a strong Democratic mother. She’s 88 years old and I am taking over where she may have left off. She always worked the polls. I got a chance to go to the national convention when Obama won the first time and I sent the inauguration the second time."

Shane Ritchey
Shane Ritchey came to support a politically active aunt.

Shane Ritchey, a prison guard who made the drive over from the Republican bastion of Ashland, was attending  his third delegate-selection forum – to support his aunt for the third time.

“She is very, very dedicated in the union and very dedicated in politics in helping the little man out. To give some people a voice that don’t have a voice.”

His aunt, Roberta Skok, won a slot as a Clinton delegate.

In contrast, a lab tech from Coshocton, Courtney Timmons, is young enough to have only been able to vote in just two presidential elections.

“The availability of medical insurance is very, very important to the American people. It’s not affordable.  Things like Medicaid as well helped us out when my mom was in the hospital I lost my mom to cancer this year.”

She got picked as a Sanders delegate.

March 15 will determine who goes where
Who actually makes the trip to the convention will depend on how Clinton and Sanders do in the March 15 primary. The Republican primary in Ohio is winner-take-all. But Democrats will divide this pool of delegates by how Clinton and Sanders do in each congressional district.

If the breakdown of the crowd at this caucus is any measure, Clinton has about a 2-1 edge over Sanders. Then again, in 2008, the auditorium of Hillary Clinton supporters was packed. And the back room for the longshot, one-term senator from Illinois – Barack Obama – was just about empty.