May 27, 1996 in Nation/World

Clinton Leads In Swing District, But Voters’ Support Isn’t Strong

Michael Winerip New York Times

Judith Snow, 57, is the voter Bob Dole must win over if he is to take the presidency. Snow is a Republican, she voted for George Bush in 1992, she runs a small clothing shop in the Republican suburb of North Canton and she is winnable.

“I just keep listening to Dole and Clinton,” she said. “Some days, you think no, some days yes.” But if she cast her vote today, it would be a yes, for Bill Clinton.

Like many people here in Stark County, a strong political bellwether for national politics, Snow has been shaken enough by the Republican-led Congress to move to President Clinton for now.

In her case, it was Congress’s effort to scale back Medicare benefits. Three-quarters of all voters questioned here in a new poll think that cutting Medicare was wrong, including nearly two-thirds of all Republicans.

“I have an elderly mother lying in the hospital right now and she has Medicare, but it’s not enough,” said Snow, whose husband is a product coordinator for Diebold, a manufacturer of ATM machines. “If they have to put her in a nursing home, we’ll have to pay for it. My husband and I are five years from retirement and we’re wondering how we’re going to make it.”

As for Clinton, she said: “I give him credit. If he hadn’t vetoed, who knows what would have happened with the budget and Medicare and that?”

To be sure, it is early. But here in this conservative northeastern Ohio county of 370,000, a place that usually votes for the presidential winner, Clinton appears to enjoy a considerable lead as the national campaign moves into its summer phase.

He is ahead of Dole by 50 percent to 33 percent among registered voters in a poll of Stark County by The New York Times in collaboration with the Ohio State University School of Journalism and the Northwestern University Survey Laboratory. The margin in Stark County is on target with national polls done in the last week by Newsweek, Time, CBS and The Washington Post, showing Clinton ahead by between 16 and 22 points.

The poll of 814 adults in Stark County, completed May 5, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Like Snow, 22 percent of those who voted for George Bush here in 1992 said they intend to switch to Clinton this time.

Even if Ohio’s popular Republican governor, George Voinovich, were added to the Dole ticket - and he is considered a leading contender - Clinton still leads here in the poll 49 to 38 percent.

But there are also indicators that Clinton’s numbers are not as strong as they first appear. For someone so far ahead, the president’s image among voters is not particularly impressive, with 42 percent favorable versus 34 percent unfavorable.

In follow-up interviews, many of those polled sounded like Teresa Barnett, a Republican, who said she is leaning toward Clinton. “Clinton hasn’t done anything that bad, yet,” she said.

Stark County, a 90-minute drive from Democratic Cleveland to the north and two hours from Republican Columbus on the west, has long viewed itself as a political swing area, just the sort of mainstream place that would be home to the Football Hall of Fame and the Christian Hall of Fame.

The poll seems to substantiate the notion; 35 percent of the residents call themselves Democrats, 34 percent Republicans and 25 percent independents.

Economic matters are by far the biggest concern among those polled, and on a whole, people seem to feel they are not doing badly. Thirty-four percent said they are better off than four years ago; 48 percent said their situation is the same, and 18 percent said worse.

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