Salesman Clinton all but clinches deal in Chillicothe CLINTON'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM

February 18, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio -- Bill Clinton faced a group of skeptical customers in Larry and Cindy Hanchins' living room last night.

But by the time he finished pitching his plan for the economy, he seemed close to making a few sales.

The president will arrive in this small industrial city today, part of a cross country trip. He's following up his televised speech to Congress with a person-to-person appeal to voters.

Larry Hanchin, who watched the speech with family and friends, is ready to hear more.

"Overall I was pleased," he said.

Mr. Hanchin, 47, a registered Republican who voted for Ross Perot, said before the speech that Mr. Clinton had not proved he was a leader.

Afterward, Mr. Hanchin, who manages a warehouse, had nothing but praise for the speech.

"Everybody's got to participate in this" effort to attack the deficit, he said. "That's essential. It's not them, it's us."

Cindy Hanchin, 44, a substitute elementary school teacher, also voted for Mr. Perot. "I liked Clinton's statement that we should stop blaming each other and get on with it," she said.

But the registered Democrat expressed some doubts. She worried about where the president would get the money for his new programs.

Dr. Michael Matter, a dentist, and his wife, Pam, watched with the Hanchins.

"I think I understand what he's saying," said Dr. Matter, 47, a Republican who also voted for Mr. Perot. "I believe in it. I think the first response will have to come from Congress. As with any change, it has to be rapid and complete."

Pam Matter, 40, an interior designer who voted for George Bush, was more reserved. "I could pick the speech apart," she said. "As a whole it sounds fine, but will Congress approve it?"

The Hanchins and the Matters consider themselves independent-minded and down to earth. They say they are middle income, middle aged and middle of the road.

And there are a lot of other folks in Chillicothe just like them.

"If you're looking for John Q. Average Citizen in Middle America, this is the place to come," said Rodney D. Jenkins, the principal of Chillicothe High.

Mr. Clinton will speak at Chillicothe High tomorrow morning.

He could have chosen friendlier turf for his appearance: George Bush beat him in Ross County, which includes Chillicothe, 10,825 votes to 10,452. Mr. Perot drew 5,616 votes.

Explaining his vote for Mr. Perot, Mr. Hanchin said, "The country is going in the wrong direction. We need to do something drastic."

Cindy Hanchin said she cast her Perot vote for an end to party politics as usual.

Last night, the couple said that Mr. Clinton seemed to be calling for the change they wanted.

Their son, Tim, 17, a staunch Republican and foe of abortion, rooted for Mr. Bush. While he believes the abortion issue is more important than all others, Tim said he was "impressed" that Mr. Clinton, who favors abortion rights, "wasn't there to blame anybody" on the economy. "He was there to take responsibility," he said.

Tim, a senior at Chillicothe High, plans to join more than 1,100 other students in the school gym to hear Mr. Clinton.

Another 500 tickets to the speech are being doled out to adults through a lottery.

If some residents are willing to accept higher taxes and spending cuts, it may be because they are nervous.

The economy here, as in many places, is rapidly changing.

Just south of Chillicothe's old-fashioned Main Street looms a 47-story, red and white smokestack.

The stack serves one of two paper mills owned by the Mead Corp., the town's largest employer.

Every day, 2,600 people turn out 1,200 tons of paper there.

The work is steady, but the company faces stiff foreign competition. Other firms have succumbed to bad economic times.

Two factories closed a couple of years ago, throwing several hundred people out of work.

"People still feel a little bit of the sting," said Marvin E. Jones, managing editor of the daily paper, the Chillicothe Gazette.

Some new jobs have moved in. But much of the job growth, Mr. Jones said, has come in lower-wage service industries.

People are finding work as cashiers and cooks at the chain stores along the Bridge Street strip north of town.

Unemployment is still high. The town's economic development director estimates that about 7.5 percent of the work force is looking for a job.

Mr. Jenkins, the principal, thinks Chillicothe's citizens may be willing to shoulder a heavier tax load. But only if they think this pain will be spread around and wealthy taxpayers will be hit, too.

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