Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made a last-minute Ohio push for votes in a marathon Sunday with a packed schedule of events that culminated with a two-hour town hall meeting from Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium.
Earlier Sunday, Sanders held a rally at the Schottenstein Center on the OSU campus and then dashed to make an appearance before 3,000 party officials, activists and rank-and-file members at the Ohio Democratic Party annual meeting at the Columbus Convention Center. Clinton had several stops in Ohio before appearing at the dinner and the town hall.
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The jammed events come just one day before the two Democrats go head-to-head in Ohio, where Clinton once held a healthy lead. But after losing Michigan to Sanders last week, there is a sense the former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady needs a bounce-back win in a big Midwestern state to avoid losing momentum.
During her speech before Democrats, Clinton aimed her fire not at Sanders but at Donald Trump.
“The stakes in this election keep getting higher, while the rhetoric keeps sinking lower,” she said. “Donald Trump is running a cynical debate of hate and fear. He is pitting Americans against each other to get these votes.”
She promised to execute her plan to create millions of jobs in manufacturing and repairing roads and other deteriorating infrastructure. And she promised to fight to bring jobs back to Ohio and the U.S.
“We need a president who knows how to compete against the rest of the world and win,” she said.
Of Trump she said, “If you want to shut him down, then let’s vote him down. Then let’s raise up a better future for ourselves and our children.”
Before Clinton’s remarks, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Clinton supporter, said the tone of the Democratic contest is a marked contrast with the Republicans, where arrests and protests have occurred at several of Donald Trump’s political rallies.
“The Democratic Party doesn’t have a lot of fear in it unlike the Republicans,” she said. “Frankly Trump is inciting fear.”
Sanders, the Vermont senator who describes himself as a Democratic socialist, told several thousand enthusiastic supporters at the Schottenstein rally that he will fight for free college tuition, campaign finance reform and universal health care.
“If we stand together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” he said.
Speaking for more than an hour, Sanders hit nearly every item on a liberal progressive’s wish list: repealing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, decriminalizing marijuana possession at the federal level, addressing climate change and treating drug addiction as a health issue and not a criminal issue.
While Sanders drew contrasts between himself and Clinton on trade policy, the Iraq war and campaign finance, he also criticized the Republican frontrunner for saying he may pay the legal fees of a man who sucker-punched a Trump protester at a rally in North Carolina.
“Donald Trump is prepared to pay the legal fees of folks who go around beating up people,” Sanders said. “A candidate for president of the United States should condemn violence, not encourage violence. You don’t go around and say ‘it’s OK to beat somebody up and I’ll pay the legal fees.’ That is not what this country is about.”
Sanders said his “political revolution” is about bringing people together to create a society that works for everyone, not just the few, and to revitalize American democracy.
“If there is a large voter turnout, we will win (the Ohio primary on Tuesday.) If there is low voter turnout, we will lose,” he said. “Our job, therefore, is to create a large — very large, huge — voter turnout.”
Jamie Fant of Trotwood, who was at the rally, said he was undecided but liked some of Sanders’ position on the high cost of going to college.
“There is something wrong when they are paying more in interest payments for a child to go to college than what a house mortgage is,” said Fant, a retired worker in the state prison system.
Oakwood residents Chris and Heather Michael, who are Hillary Clinton voters, brought their sons Dylan and Sean to Columbus to see Sanders because Dylan, 14, is a fan.
“He was excited and we thought it was important to take him here,” Heather Michael said.
On Tuesday Ohio voters will go to the polls in one of the biggest days on the primary calendar so far. Voters in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina will cast ballots and award 691 delegates in the Democratic contest and 358 delegates on the GOP side.
By Tuesday night, half of the Democratic delegates will be picked and 60 percent of the Republican delegates will be set.
Clinton currently leads in the delegate count 1,231 to 576 for Sanders, including superdelegates who have already pledged their support. Clinton is about halfway toward the total needed.
Former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin is superdelegate for the Democrats — and uncommitted at the moment. McLin said she and Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper will throw their support behind the candidate who wins Ohio.
McLin said she likes both candidates and that it will be tough to choose between them.
“On the one hand I know how difficult it is to be a woman in politics and that women bring a certain type of character to the office,” she said, adding that Sanders is a “free spirit” who believes what he says and has the interests of the people at heart.
Staff Writer Jim Otte contributed to this story.