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Government & Politics
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Ohio's Primary is Not Top-of-Mind for Many Voters Yet, but National Concerns Are

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M.L. SCHULTZE
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WKSU
For some of those at the B&K, the issues are what they were 20 years ago: the economy and healthcare

It’s five weeks before Ohio’s primary, and so far, the presidential candidates and their issues seem far removed from many Ohioans’ lives. As WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports, that’s not just because those candidates have been spending all their time in New Hampshire.

Editor's note: We’ll be checking back with the B& K regularly though the 2016 election. And though this presidential field may seem more crowded than in years’ past, you can check at the bottom of this story to find some surprising parallels with the election of 1996.  

It's the economy and healthcare -- again
The B&K restaurant is unusually quiet the morning after the Superbowl, though the first set of regulars are in their booths at 6:30, and most of the rest stroll in during the next hour or so. The waitress pours from a bottomless pot of coffee – that and a full breakfast can still come in at about 5 bucks or so.

That’s not a whole lot more than when I reported from here back in the 90s. We picked the B&K back then to talk about issues during presidential election years because the family-owned restaurant was in the middle of the swing township – Perry -- in the swing county – Stark – in the swing state – Ohio.

Over and over back then, people cited two issues key to their lives: The economy and healthcare.

And neither of those concerns has gone away.

Wendy Smith steps out from the kitchen to fill a tall mug with coffee and stops to chat with a customer at the counter.  She hasn’t had much sleep lately.

Wendy Smith
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU
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WKSU
Wendy is worried about her sister, who had a stroke two weeks ago and has no health insurance.

  “She tried to stand yesterday. She thought she could stand. She fell. She’s strong willed.”

That's because her sister had a stroke two weeks ago -- and has no health insurance.

“I was more worried about her than thinking health insurance. But now that we’re together mentally, you’re like ‘OK, how are we going to deal with this?’ That’s when it hits you.”  

Still, she told sister not to worry about it: “’Don’t worry about nothing, just get better, that’s what you have to do.”

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to have resolved this.

A powerless or too powerful government?
But to Bill Daar, the solutions promised by politicians are too often part of accelerating problems that government can’t or won’t do anything about.

He retired from the Timken Company after 30 years, in the days before outside shareholders forced the steel and bearing icon to split into two. He sees himself as one of the lucky ones.

“You’ve gotta work under 30 hours. So people gotta hold two jobs. That means the school children especially, they don’t have two parents at home or anybody to help them; usually it’s a single-family home and education suffers...”

​Defensive disinterest
Daar is not exactly one of this year’s much-talked-about angry voters.

For him, it’s more of a defensive disinterest. Politics and government and the people who populate them are a collective “they” and he’s tuning it all out – at least until it gets closer to the primary.

“I got so sick of being lied to I quit listening to TV.”

Jeff Greenfelder says he, too, is waiting awhile before he tunes in.

“They have a tendency to talk around issues and not really tell you what they truly believe in. They want to try to tell you what you want to hear rather than what specifically they are going to do.”

National issues, perhaps local solutions

Jeff Greenfelder
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU
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WKSU
Jeff Greenfelder retired from teaching 19 years ago. He sees a range of huge national problems, and says some of those have grass roots solutions.

  Greenfelder is a retired anatomy and physiology teacher – and his students included Brad and Karen Miller – who bought the restaurant from the original B and K more than 10 years ago  

In rapid succession, Greenfelder gives a history of Stark County’s economy:

“This county for so many years relied upon steel and associated industries. People like the Hoover Co., which is basically not making any sweepers in this country any more....”

An international comparison of healthcare:

“I’ve been to Norway, which is a socialistic country. They do very well. They pay for all their medication, all their education, everything. But they only have 5 million people in the country. And they have North Coast oil. ...”

And an examination of Middle East policies:

“We have spent huge amounts of money and we’re losing lives and we have gained nothing by it. The reason we have problems with ISIS, the Taliban etc. is we’re interfering their countries and they don’t like that. ...”

But he says many problems – from drug addition to education to family support -- are closer to home – and so are the solutions.

“We’ve made such a big deal out of it. The press has made such a big deal out of it that we throw up our hands and say, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’ But there is and it has to start at the grass roots level.”

Still, Greenfelder and some of the others promise they’ll tune in more to the presidential candidates after voters in New Hampshire and some of the  states have done some winnowing for them. Then they stop and add that they hope one candidate is not winnowed out before Ohio gets its say ... Gov. John Kasich.

Think back to the election of 1996... 
Ohio voters back in 1996 had lots of choices to make in the March primary. And some may seem familiar in name or at least in biography.

There was a Clinton, a very wealthy businessman, and a socially conservative African American. Here’s the rundown and their vote totals:

Democratic
Clinton, Bill            D             713,153   91.84
LaRouche, Lyndon H., Jr. D              63,377    8.16
Total Party Votes:               776,530        

Republican
Dole, Bob                R             640,954   66.53
Buchanan, Patrick J.     R             208,012   21.59
Forbes, Steve            R              58,131    6.03
Keyes, Alan              R              27,197    2.82
Alexander, Lamar         R              19,530    2.0
Lugar, Richard G.        R               9,598    1.00
Total Party Votes:               963,422        

Total State Votes:             1,739,952