ELYRIA — When Caroline Kennedy speaks, people listen.
With four days left before the Ohio Democratic primary election, Kennedy — the only surviving child of President John F. Kennedy — won over the hearts of undecided voters Thursday night who crowded into the Elyria YWCA.
“If we were undecided when we walked in here, this put us over the edge,” said Tim Dziak, 39, of Cleveland.
Kennedy, 50, spoke to a crowd of roughly 200 for about 20 minutes, endorsing U.S. Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee for president.
“I’ve never had a candidate that inspires me the way people tell me my father inspired them,” Kennedy said, her sentences interrupted by applause every few seconds.
Using some of the same phrasing that she wrote in her oft-quoted New York Times op-ed piece — the one in which she endorsed Obama, the first time she’s delved into the presidential race since her uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., ran in 1980 — she said Obama is that kind of candidate, one much like her father.
She said Obama will support increased pay for public school teachers, give a $4,000 tax credit to make college more affordable, double funding for after-school programs, require employers to give seven paid sick days a year and work with opponents to pass universal health care.
“He’s had judgment to oppose this war in Iraq from the start,” she said. “He’ll appeal to those around the world who still believe in the American ideal and are looking to America for the kind of leadership we provided internationally when my father was president.”
Elyria Mayor Bill Grace, who attended the event, also has endorsed Obama. He said he believes Obama is the man who will unite a country that has been divided for eight years.
Stacey Francis, 49, of Elyria, said she walked into the YWCA undecided about who to vote for, but left wanting to believe in Obama’s message — especially after shaking Kennedy’s hand.
“It’s just so close between Obama and (U.S. Sen. Hillary) Clinton,” she said. “I keep on thinking about the issues and one day I’m on this side and the next I’m on the other.”
That’s a pretty common problem potential voters are struggling to resolve, said Linda Mitchell, 55, of Elyria, who is part of the Obama campaign in Lorain County.
Mitchell, who volunteers at Obama’s county headquarters on Broad Street in Elyria, said she spent the day going door to door and was amazed at how receptive people are to his platform.
“Just the exposure to Sen. Obama and hearing his message of hope is enough to win people over,” she said. “Every single one listened, and every single one went away saying they would vote for Obama.”
Contact Jason Hawk at 329-7148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.