Saturday, August 12, 2000

Dems keeping victory in focus

Local delegates not doctrinaire

By Howard Wilkinson and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Ohioans and Kentuckians streaming into Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention are willing to set aside some differences with Al Gore on issues to hold onto the White House this fall.

        About half of the members of the 169-member Ohio delegation and the 59-member Kentucky delegation responded to a mail-in poll conducted by the Enquirer.


  In print editions of Sunday's Enquirer, readers will find two full pages previewing the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

        The poll showed that the Democratic delegates are diverse. In the Ohio delegation, 23 percent are union members and 36 percent are African-American and other minorities.

        The delegates range in age from 19-year-old Josephine Sittenfeld, a Bill Bradley delegate from Clifton, to 78-year-old Ruby Gilliam of Minerva, Ohio.

        The poll results showed that the delegates are in tune with the basic messages of the Gore campaign — education reform, Social Security and Medicare reform, support for a “patients' bill of rights” and prescription drug coverage for the elderly.

        But, for many delegates, there are differences with the nominee on some issues, including:

        U.S. trade policy: At least 25 percent of the Ohio and Kentucky delegations are union members — from teachers to steelworkers — and organized labor has battled the Clinton-Gore administration on preferred trading status for China and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which labor says costs American workers' jobs.

        Late-term abortions: Mr. Gore has stuck to Mr. Clinton's position vetoing any congressional ban on the procedure anti-abortion activists call “partial birth” abortion, but the Enquirer survey showed that many delegates — even some who call themselves “pro-choice” on abortion — think the procedure is wrong and should be banned.

        Tobacco: Among the delegates from Kentucky, where tobacco is the No. 1 cash crop, many oppose the Clinton-Gore administration's efforts to classify tobacco as a regulated drug and say the anti-tobacco efforts hurt tobacco farmers more than the cigarette makers.

        U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas of Richwood said this week he could not cast his ballot as a delegate for Mr. Gore, because of fundamental differences the conservative Democrat has on issues such as tobacco, abortion and gun control. Friday, he said he wouldn't attend the convention.

        But the vast majority of delegates seem willing to overlook differences they have with Mr. Gore and his running mate, Joseph Lieberman.

        If the Enquirer poll is any indication, trade policy may be the issue where the differences are greatest, because of the enormous influence of organized labor in the Democratic party.

        Mr. Gore's support of preferred nation status for China “is the worst possible position for working men and women,” said David Caldwell, a 48-year-old steelworker from Pataskala, Ohio. “I think it will hurt him with labor, but I hope not too much.”

        Many labor leaders fear Mr. Gore's trade positions will drive rank-and-file voters to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, but Future Vincent-Hicks, a 56-year-old officer in the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said she believes the damage will be minimal.

        “I stand with labor on this issue,” Ms. Vincent-Hicks said. “However, I don't think it will have much impact on the outcome of the election. Labor and Gore agree on the majority of issues.”

        Brett Mills, a 32-year-old history professor from Owensboro, Ky., expressed the view of many delegates when he said that Mr. Gore's position on issues such as raising the minimum wage, the patient's bill of rights and main taining the economic growth of the Clinton years will more than offset any disagreements.

        “Four more years of continued Democratic direction should compensate labor,” Mr. Mills said.

        There is less disagreement among the Democrats over the issue of abortion than trade policy; the party is overwhelmingly in favor of abortion rights.

        But nearly 20 percent of those who responded to the Enquirer poll said they favored a ban on so-called “partial birth” abortions — a position out of step with Mr. Gore, who has supported Mr. Clinton's veto of such legislation.

        The vast majority of delegates, however, believe the issue should not be addressed in the party platform.

        “Although I am personally against abortion, I feel this is an issue each woman has to make for herself, after very careful thought,” said Norma Leighty, a delegate from Wooster, Ohio.

        Most delegates responding to the Enquirer poll said they think abortion is a matter of personal conscience and shouldn't be addressed by the candidate, the party or the government.

        “Our party is less for abortion than against the insane conception that a woman is always worth less than the fetus she carries,” said Teri Mosier, a 40-year-old Louisville attorney.

        This is an issue, said delegate Lucretia Crawford of Springfield, Ohio, that “should not even have a place in politics or any public forum. This is a personal issue and should be a private matter and made solely by the woman involved.”

        Kentucky delegates concerned about the impact of Mr. Gore's anti-tobacco positions believe he needs to finesse that issue by making it clear to Kentucky tobacco farmers that he understands their concerns.

        David Tandy, a lawyer from Louisville, said he is convinced Mr. Gore will “fight to find ways to help these people keep their farms.”

        “At the same time, Vice President Gore will be a foe to those tobacco companies that attempt to prey on teens in an attempt to attract new customers.”


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