Hillary tops county Dems' straw poll at county fair
The Union County Democrats' county fair booth was filled with buttons, bumperstickers, voter registration forms and bobble-headed donkeys. Following the "Jam Packed with Fun" fair theme, the Union County Democrats displayed the national presidential candidates names on jam jars and gave interested fairgoers each a dime to put in the jar representing the candidate that they preferred most. We also solicited comments on bright orange cards with the question, "What is the most important issue on your mind?"
Some people came back to look at our quart canning jars and read the comments. Many urged us to announce our results. So here they are. Many thanks to all who were willing to talk about the issues and share your views with us.
Since our straw poll was an open primary, inviting input from independents and Republicans, it's a little challenging to read. Overall 223 people voted. The "other" jar, which could indicate support for Al Gore or a Republican candidate, held 40 dimes on Saturday night.
Among the Democrat candidates Â— and overall Â— Hillary Clinton held a very strong lead with $10.30 or 46 percent of the overall vote, or 56 percent if the "other" jar is excluded. Barack Obama came in second with $8.60 or 39 percent of the overall vote. John Edwards was third with $3.80; Dennis Kucinich exceeded his national ranking earning $3 and fourth place. (We think that's because he made the trip to La Grande in 2004 and captured some votes with his openness and idealism.)
We compared local data against the national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. They only asked self-disclosed Democrat voters to vote in their Democratic primary, yet their numbers rank Clinton and Obama in the same order that Union County did. We wondered how different the straw poll might have been if more candidates' views had received the press coverage these two front-runners have received.
Whether on their way to enjoy the animals or to track down those tasty elephant ears, 48 people were willing to stop and write down their concerns on comment cards we posted for everyone to see. The most troubling issues appear to be health care and the Iraq war.
Concerning health care, people focused on worries about insurance, access and the inefficiency and unfairness of our current system. Their solutions differed, but even people who themselves have good health insurance told us that they worry about their neighbors and their neighbors' children.
Regarding the Iraq war, some expressed anger and frustration with what they see as mismanagement, corporate profiteering and the use of precious financial resources to prop up foreign governments. Other people mourned the loss of human lives and the suffering that our injured soldiers endure.
We also read in the responses concerns about energy and the environment Â— with a particular emphasis on global warming. Several people voiced concerns about supporting civil rights, notably gay rights, the need to ensure the separation of church and state and worried about discriminatory responses to issues of immigration.
Please understand that our method of asking for your help was messy and complicated. The conversations that we had with people as they visited the booth helped us to understand that these worries and their potential solutions aren't simple or uniform. Democracy is messy like that.
And these issues and ideas were not limited to Democrats. Several people told us, "You don't want to hear from me. I'm a Republican." But we did want to hear, and what we learned from self-professed non-Democrats were concerns about health care, the war, the economy and financial shenanigans at the highest level of our government.
So rather than telling you that this is what we know Â— that 37.5 percent of the people who cared enough to fill out a comment card are concerned about the Iraq war Â— we'd like to use these ideas as a starting point to begin a conversation with the citizens of Union County.
To that end, the Union County Democrats are holding a book study/discussion group, beginning Aug. 23 at the Sac Annex conference room. We'll be reading "Blue Grit" by Laura Flanders. The subtitle is "True Democrats take back politics from the politicians," a concept that allows us to take more responsibility for the issues and ideals we hold most dear.
I would also like to thank the 28 Democrats who worked for more than 100 hours managing the fair booth and bringing a thoughtful and engaged political presence to this county-wide celebration.
Rosemary Powers chairs the Union County Democrats.