CHILLICOTHE, Ohio _The outcome of Tuesday's Ohio presidential primary will come down to whether the Vickie Smiths will turn out in bigger numbers than the Sina Ingolds.
Smith, a 53-year-old nurse from Waverly, barely paid attention to politics before Barack Obama exploded into the national consciousness. Today, she's so taken with the Illinois senator that one of her birthday presents was a ticket to a Democratic fundraiser where Obama spoke.
Ingold, 71, has struggled all her life. The Malaga caregiver grew up in a house that had no electricity until she was 21, and later worked milking cows and in an aluminum plant and a sewing factory to make a living. She's a Hillary Clinton fan, saying that the New York senator understands why and how government will help those who need it.
Ingold wants experience. Smith wants change. Ohio is torn.
The race is close; a Mason-Dixon poll for the Cleveland Plain Dealer released on Sunday put Clinton ahead by four points — 47-43 percent_ with an error margin of four points and nine percent undecided. Pundits say that if Clinton loses here and in Texas, which also holds a primary Tuesday, she's done.
Ohio is considered Clinton's best shot.
"Clinton has statistically significant advantages over Obama," said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll.
The state is full of working class, often union-loyal, people who see Washington as their protector and safety net _half of the Democratic primary vote comes from heavily blue-collar northeast Ohio, primarily the Cleveland-Akron area. And Clinton's got the support of the state's two most popular Democratic figures, Gov. Ted Strickland and former Sen. John Glenn, whose commercials for her seem to pop up at every break.
But as in other states, Obama is riding a wave that defies traditional political patterns, and his fans regard his ascension as a movement as much as a campaign.
"I remember President Kennedy. I remember the effect he had on people," said Christy Conkel, a Waverly analytic manager. "This reminds of those days."
Throughout Ohio, voters' basic concerns are the same. Manufacturing jobs are going or gone. The North American Free Trade Agreement is highly unpopular; 59 percent disapproved of it, according to the Mason-Dixon poll. Health care costs too much. The war in Iraq is a quagmire.
Clinton backers insist that these problems are too tough and complex for a novice to handle.
"You have to offer more than hope and change. Obama scares me," said Cindy Montgomery, a dry cleaner owner in Toronto.
At Clinton's rallies and voter encounters, people tell her how important government has been in their lives. Bridget Sexton, a 21-year-old Coal Grove single mother, explained how the Family and Medical Leave Act, which Clinton's husband signed into law, made it easier for her to take off work to tend to her child.
Clinton supporters tag Obama as too inexperienced, even naive, to deal with daily worries that won't be resolved by reciting "Yes We Can," the popular Obama chant.
"It's not just one thing she can do. It's everything. It's experience," said Brittany Rose, a Cleveland real estate broker.
Mary Barker of Lexington, who's worked at the nearby General Motors plant for 23 years, still has a job, but observes that "70 percent of the people working there come from other plants that have closed." She backs Clinton.
Dee Volk, a registered nurse from Galion, said she sees welfare patients able to get elective surgery while some people with private insurance cannot. She thinks the system needs to change. She, too, supports Clinton.
Obama supporters voice the flip side.
Sure, universal health care is a laudable goal, said Rob Davis, a Chillicothe ironworker. But Obama's plan, which is not as sweeping, "would have the best chance of passing," he said.
Most Obama loyalists have no quarrel with Clinton's policies. But they're often sick of her and her husband.
"I was trying to decide between the two, and then I saw Bill (say controversial things) in South Carolina. I said to myself, 'I don't want to go through another Clinton administration where there was a crisis every week,''' said Judy Lanning, a Chillicothe librarian.
The Obama folks don't talk too much about specifics, saying that his innate understanding of people will be his guide. "You vote for the man first," explained Reay Mackay, a Bainbridge retiree.
Obama captured the loyalty of Vickie Smith, the nurse who thought Bill Clinton did a good job and likes Hillary Clinton, but finds her polarizing.
Until recently, she followed politics from a distance, but once she heard Obama on television, she was hooked. She went to the fundraising dinner for her birthday, and now buttonholes anyone she sees.
"I'd never gone door to door in my life," she chuckled.
But behind those doors are often people like Ingold, Clinton loyalists who won't
Growing up, Ingold shared a bedroom with her deaf-mute mother and her brother, a place heated by wood and coal. "I've been poor all my life," she said. "I know what it means to struggle, and Hillary is the only one who can straighten all this out."
Even she can't figure out who's going to prevail here Tuesday.
"These young kids were born with spoons in their mouths. They don't know what it is to hurt," Ingold said. "They just love Obama."