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Ohio Factory Workers to Help Decide Democratic US Presidential Nomination

Voters in the Midwestern state of Ohio are among those who go to the polls March 4 to vote in U.S. presidential primaries. The Midwest electoral battle is especially fierce among the two remaining Democratic Party candidates. They are aiming their appeal at factory workers who have suffered the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in recent years. Union leaders and workers are divided over whether Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama would be the best one to help stop the decline of the state's industrial base. VOA's Jim Fry was in the Cleveland area and files this report.

Behind the icy winter beauty of Lake Erie's southern shore lies the industrial core of the nation.

But times are hard these days in cities like Lorain, Ohio - where the steel mill that once employed 12,000 is down to about 2,000 workers.

Lorain's mayor and sheetmetal worker Tom Krasienko, in recent days, endorsed Hillary Clinton. He says, "We're the heart of manufacturing in America and when we saw those jobs going away on the premise of, just low cost labor, we took it personally."

At the local campaign headquarters - Volunteers help attract a crowd to the gym at a local high school.

Senator Hillary Clinton speaks to those facing the hardships of job loss. She tells them, "If it was a big corporation that was in trouble, everybody would say: Well, what can we do to help you out? "Well I want to say the same thing to the families of Lorain and Ohio."

The New York Senator touts her universal health care plan for Ohio's middle class.

Erin Sullivan Lally is walking the front lines for the Clinton campaign, seeking votes in middle class neighborhoods where as many as four in 10 breadwinners [chief household wage earners] are union members. Clinton supporters say union households will be a deciding factor Tuesday.

"They're tied together, jobs and health care. People are seeing their jobs go to other countries and their profitable companies that are leaving because they don't have to pay taxes when they do. And people are angry about that," Lally said.

About 60 kilometers [40 miles] to the east, members of the Service Employees International Union suit up for another candidate.

They head out into a Midwestern snowstorm to a lower middle class area on the east side of Cleveland.

The union has pledged to knock on one million doors in this part of Ohio for Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Party frontrunner.

Ohio's largest city also suffers from job losses. Amid the shuttered factories, the government counts the loss of 243,000 manufacturing jobs in the state this decade.

Obama campaigns among workers in factories. He visits with a group facing the loss of their pensions and speaks of what government can to. He says, "If a layoff happens, there should be something there to help folks out a little bit."

Union leader Anton Famby, says the service employees recently endorsed Obama.

"The people like you and I, that just go to work everyday and have the average, everyday problems that families deal with - those people are going to make the difference in this election," Famby said.

Most nights, the Cuyhoga Valley Career Center hums with activity.

Matt Gannon machines a part -- improving his industrial skills.

Two men in mid-career learn to do by computer what they once did by hand.

And among those studying to become licensed practical nurses is Ernie Geyer, a moldmaker who has faced repeated layoffs. "And I think we've heard it in past elections that Ohio is vital to manufacturing. But it hasn't improved," Geyer said.

Matt Gannon adds, "There's nothing they can say or do to me, that's going to motivate me - you know what I mean - I believe in motivating yourself."

In the neighborhoods, voters are taking sides.

Obama supporter, Shirley Bailey says, "I'm thinking he's the kind of person who hasn't forgotten where he came from."

Clinton supporter, Doreen Bjuman says, "She's more believable to me, that she's working for the people."

Ohio votes Tuesday [March 4th], and Clinton's own advisors say she needs to win this big state to keep her campaign alive. If Obama adds to his month-long series of primary victories, Democrats say the Illinois Senator is likely to be the one on who will carry the hopes of Ohio workers to the general election in November.