By David Skolnick
A local Republican official is shocked by the Democratic legislators’ comments.
YOUNGSTOWN — With the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees in the Mahoning Valley today for a rally, two local Democratic state legislators said they believe a main reason polls show a tight race is because of racist voters.
“Race — that’s the only reason people in the Valley won’t vote for him,” said state Rep. Thomas Letson of Warren, D-64th, about Barack Obama, his party’s presidential nominee. “There are 1,000 reasons to vote for Obama and one reason why you won’t — race.”
“Staunch Republicans” who make up 35 percent to 40 percent of the population would never vote for a Democrat regardless of race, Letson said.
It is the independents, the “swing voters” and Democrats who are or will support Republican John McCain who are the “racists,” Letson and state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, said.
The comments were made Monday with the pair criticizing McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, his vice presidential running mate.
When told of the comments from Hagan and Letson, Mark Munroe, the Mahoning County Republican vice chairman, said he was shocked.
“These guys have gone off the deep end,” he said. “This is probably the most absurd and disgusting comment we’ve heard from our elected Democratic legislators.”
While acknowledging “race may explain why some people vote for or against Obama,” Munroe said there are many reasons why people wouldn’t support him. They include, he said, Obama’s inexperience, his “liberal voting record,” and his position on the war in Iraq.
McCain and Palin are holding a “Victory 2008 Rally” at Winner Aviation at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna. The doors will open at 1 p.m., with McCain and Palin expected to hit the stage at 4:10 p.m.
“When we speak to swing voters and we talk of issues, the only reason they’re undecided is because of race,” Hagan said.
Obama’s father was black. Obama is a U.S. senator from Illinois.
Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, the city’s first elected black mayor and an Obama supporter, said he is “not going to accuse someone of being racist because they vote for McCain. I’m not criticizing Representatives Hagan or Letson. If [what they said] shakes people up and has them look at this issue, then so be it.”
This is McCain’s third campaign visit to the Valley since April and the first time Palin is in the area.
The Winner hangar was the location for an Oct. 27, 2004, campaign rally for President Bush with about 11,000 in attendance.
Today’s event is expected to attract 5,000 to 7,000, Munroe said.
“If we can reach that, we’d be happy,” he said. “There was not an expectation to meet Bush’s number. He was a sitting president at the time.”
Hagan and Letson sharply criticized the decision to select Palin as McCain’s running mate, saying she’s too inexperienced for the job.
“You’re looking at two people that are more qualified to be vice president then the one that’s up there as the Republican,” said Hagan, a longtime state legislator.
After today’s rally, Palin is off to fund-raising events in other parts of Ohio. But McCain is staying put.
McCain will be a guest on the Wednesday broadcast of ABC’s “Good Morning America” at the Gustavus farm of Henry and Linda Lipps. The show airs from 7 to 9 a.m.
McCain and Palin aren’t the only candidates to make a visit this week to the Mahoning Valley.
U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, will hold a rally Thursday evening in downtown Youngstown as part of his “Change We Need” tour.
The campaign hadn’t finalized the time and location of Biden’s appearance. But those with knowledge of the event say it will be on West Federal Street, near Phelps Street, about 6:45 or 7 p.m. The campaign decided on West Federal Street, selecting it over Stambaugh Auditorium.
The campaign is hoping the rally can attract about 1,000 people.
“Are people interesting in seeing Joe Biden?” Munroe asked, sarcastically. “It would be interesting to see how many people will come see Joe Biden. He certainly hasn’t excited the crowds like Sarah Palin has.”