Obama Discusses Faith In Southeast Ohio

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Sen. Barack Obama in Zanesville
Sen. Barack Obama in Zanesville

Standing on the steps of a Zanesville food pantry, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama yesterday unveiled his plan to strengthen ties between the White House and faith-based groups. Obama says he wants to expand a Bush Administration program to help fight poverty and meet emergency needs.

Democratic Senator Barack Obama came to traditionally Republican Zanesville to discuss traditionally Republican campaign themes – faith and values.

“In time I came to see my faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community; that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I went out and did the Lord’s work,” Obama said.

Obama chose Eastside Community Mission, a food and clothing pantry, for the poor to unveil his plans to expand federal aid to religious social services providers. He said he believes deeply in the separation of church and state, but the challenges, he said, were too big for government to solve by itself.

“I know there are some who bristle at the notion that faith has no place in the public square,” Obama said. “But the fact is leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups.”

Obama said he would create a new agency, the Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that would disperse federal dollars. But spending would be strictly controlled he said; no proselytizing and no discrimination against the people receiving help or employees being hired. Money sent to temples, churches and mosques, he said, could only be used for secular programs.

There were a few scattered clusters of Obama supporters and curious onlookers across the street; the event was open only to the press.

Dick Keyes, a Republican, says Obama may not be such a hard sell after all, given the region’s economic climate.

“I don’t know to be very honest with you, I don’t think it will be because of the tough times we’ve had here like every place else has had,” Keyes said. “Employment and everything else is down. And so I would feel that he’s got a pretty good shot here. I think he’s going to carry Ohio possibly but it’s going to be close.”

As it turns out jobs were on a lot of people’s minds. Rob Caw says he hasn’t had time to listen to too much campaign rhetoric. He’s been filling out employment applications around town.

“Whichever one would help bring more jobs around would probably I’d be wanting to vote for,” Caw said.

Brenda Barnett says she lost her job so now she’s back in school studying accounting. She was disappointed in Obama’s non-availability.

“I wanted to see Barack Obama,” she said. “I wanted to tell him some things; I wanted to hear what he had to say. But I see that people who count aren’t invited here. They wouldn’t even let us know what time he was coming.”

Obama’s first campaign stop in Zanesville comes on the heels of a visit to eastern Ohio last week by Republican John McCain. With recent polls showing the two candidates within five points of each other, Obama says he might spend more campaign time in this region of the state.

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