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Published: Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Page: 1A

RACINE - Coal mine workers met with top state and national Democratic leaders Monday at the annual United Mine Workers of America Labor Day rally at John Slack Memorial Park in Racine.

A relatively light crowd met with U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democratic congressional candidate Anne Barth, Gov. Joe Manchin and others.

While some politicians, union leaders and others in the audience had plenty of praise for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and his chances in the Nov. 4 election, some were lukewarm about the presidential candidate.

"To be honest with you, neither one of them should be president," Harold Buzzard, a union miner, said of both Obama and the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain. "This country needs somebody who's going to straighten them out."

Both presidential candidates have made good points on different issues, Buzzard said, but he's just not thrilled with either one. He still expects a very close election similar to the race between President Bush and Al Gore in 2000.

Buzzard said he also did not support Sen. Hillary Clinton for president.

"If Obama gets elected, he may do a fine job," Buzzard said. "It's hard to say."

Carole Bailes of Big Chimney dressed in full Obama garb Monday, wearing an Obama pin and T-shirt.

"I was hoping to spread the word about Obama," she said. "If he doesn't win I think we'll be in a worse fix."

Bailes expects both Obama and his vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, will visit West Virginia before the election. "It would help a lot if he comes," she said.

Larry Lyon, the chairman of the Republican Party in Boone County, joked that he came out to see what "the enemy" had to say.

"This is one of the smallest crowds I've ever seen at one of these Labor Day meets," Lyon said.

Lyon, who cited a couple of different polls, anticipates a possible 20 percent margin of victory for McCain in West Virginia.

He said most Americans want offshore oil drilling and domestic drilling in Alaska.

"We're going to go broke if we don't start drilling," he said. "We're importing too much and we're selling too little ... That's what weakens the dollar."

Gov. Joe Manchin, who addressed the crowd early in the afternoon, disagreed.

"I've never been more committed to change than I am today," Manchin said.

He noted that Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have "united behind change" even after Hillary's tight race with Obama for the Democratic nomination.

"They've asked all of us to do the same," he said.

Manchin said he has not always agreed with Obama's stance on social issues, but said West Virginia needs more help in Washington, D.C.

"We've been adrift for the last eight years," he said. "It's time to get back on track. We have not gotten the help we need."

Rockefeller addressed the crowd Monday for about 15 minutes. Instead of telling those in the audience why to vote for Obama, he told them why they should not vote for McCain, his colleague in the U.S. Senate.

"You don't want to vote for this guy," he said, and later added, "He's a terrible person to have as a president for West Virginia. He's a terrible person to have as a president for the United States."

Rockefeller bashed McCain's record on health insurance and veterans benefits. He said McCain opposed tax cuts for working families and twice voted to send West Virginia jobs overseas. He said McCain opposed clean coal technology in 2005 and he didn't vote to lower prescription drug prices for West Virginia seniors on a Medicare bill.

He also said McCain missed a crucial vote to provide hundreds of West Virginia children with health-care coverage through the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"He missed it. He was fundraising," Rockefeller said. "That is unforgivable."

Barth, who's in the race for the Second Congressional District against Shelley Moore Capito, said her success in November would help "end George Bush and Shelley Capito's dependence on foreign oil."

"My campaign will not take any money from Big Oil," she said.

When asked about Obama's chances in West Virginia, Barth said "a lot can happen between now and Election Day."

Barth believes Biden, who she called a "lunch-bucket Democrat," will resonate with the voters in West Virginia. She said Obama could benefit from a visit to the state.

"Anytime the candidate can come into West Virginia and talk to the voters face to face, it's effective," she said.

Democratic Supreme Court candidates Margaret Workman and Menis Ketchum and secretary of state hopeful Natalie Tennant also spent the afternoon in Racine.

Reach Davin White at davin or 348-1254.

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