Buchanan’s visit fails to stir Williams County

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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HOLIDAY CITY, O. — Pat Buchanan says he is running a grass-roots campaign for president. It’s difficult to get closer to the roots than he did last night.

Here in the Williams County village of Holiday City – population 50 – a small but vocal crowd attended a rally for their candidate. They heard their candidate say that the United States is under threat of domination by “the coming of world government” and that he is the only candidate who will fight for their national sovereignty.

“I will fight to the end, and we will win this time!” Mr. Buchanan said to a standing ovation.

Normally, when a presidential candidate comes to a small town, people take notice. It’s an exciting event for the entire community.

But here, just outside the larger Montpelier, population 4,700, the arrival of Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan was greeted mostly with a yawn.

The rally was held at one end of the Holiday Inn here. At the other was a meeting of the Ohio Identification Officers Association, which had more people in attendance.

After two unsuccessful runs for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, Mr. Buchanan announced in October that he was abandoning the GOP for the Reform Party. So far, he is the only major announced candidate for the Reform nod, which means he will likely be on the November ballot alongside Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

“Those other two agree on issue after issue 100 per cent,” he said. “If I don’t run, the American people aren’t going to be able to hear what we have to say.”

Before the rally, Mr. Buchanan held a fund-raiser at the home of Kevin Whitlock, a 28-year-old engineer from the even smaller town of West Unity, O. About 60 people, many of whom drove several hours to attend, were at the $100-a-person function.

In some ways, Williams County seems like prime ground for a Buchanan candidacy. Historically, it has been more supportive of Reform Party candidates than most areas. In the 1992 election, it was one of only three Ohio counties to give party founder Ross Perot more votes than Bill Clinton.

And Mr. Buchanan’s past with the GOP – including working in the Reagan and Nixon administrations – should help him in this Republican stronghold. “I was in a poker game that was too rich for my blood,” he said of his decision to leave the GOP when faced with well-funded opposition.

Several Buchanan supporters at the rally said they formerly were strong Republicans. “I was disgusted at the way the party treated Pat,” said Frank Barnard, 73, a retired salesman from Hudson, Mich. “He’s extremely sincere, totally direct, and I agree with 90 per cent of what he says.”

Mr. Barnard has left the GOP for the Libertarian Party, but he said he would join the Reform Party if it would help Mr. Buchanan.

Dorothy Lucey and her husband, Richard, made the trip from Grand Rapids, Mich., to see their candidate. “He stands for everything I believe in,” she said.

Mr. Buchanan would help reduce the number of immigrants into this country: “They expect all these handouts, when the older immigrants never did,” she said.

At the fund-raiser, some of the most vocal attendants asked the candidate about a variety of conspiracy theories they held. Many were about groups some claim control the world, such as the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderburgers, Skull and Bones.

On several occasions, Mr. Buchanan said the groups are not worth being concerned about, and he occasionally tried to distance himself from the questioning.

He did not respond directly when a woman claimed the Federal Reserve system is controlled by unknown foreign groups. After one question about alleged corruption at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Buchanan was quick to say, “He said that. Don’t quote me as saying that!”

While those at the rally were vocal in their support, for whatever reason, Mr. Buchanan’s appearance here generated little excitement. Just a few hours before his arrival, most people in Montpelier and West Unity seemed to have no idea he was coming – or even that he was running.

“I don’t know anything about it,”said Jodi Repp, owner of The Garden Divine in West Unity. Her comments echoed more than two dozen others interviewed in the two villages.

“I’ve know about it for a few days, but no one else has even mentioned it,” said Lewis Hilkert, branch manger of the Farmers & Merchants State Bank in West Unity.

More than 30 interviews in the two villages found no one who said he or she would support Mr. Buchanan in November.

They gave a variety of reasons, ranging from Mr. Buchanan’s social conservatism to his opposition to free-trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

But perhaps most troubling for Mr. Buchanan are the people who say they do like him but still won’t vote for him.

Teresa Vanover, a floral designer at The Personal Touch flower shop in downtown Montpelier, said she supported Mr. Buchanan in his previous runs for the presidency. But this time, she’s staying away.

“I like that he’s for the American worker and against NAFTA, but he doesn’t have a chance against Bush and Gore,” she said. “So there’s no chance I’d vote for him.”

“He’s too late,” said Ralph Sedam, 59, a sales manager for Golden Auto Parts in Montpelier, who had a favorable impression from his last two campaigns. “He’s a straight-shooter, and he doesn’t want to just give people everything. He wants people to work for it. But he’s wasting his time.”

Mr. Buchanan insists he will keep campaigning, even as national polls show him struggling at about 5 per cent, far below Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore.

At the rally, he continued to deliver his campaign message of keeping out of foreign wars, curbing free trade, and bringing a conservative approach to issues such as abortion.

One of his biggest focuses was America’s trade relations with China, which he said are helping to build up a potential military threat to the United States. If elected, Mr. Buchanan said he would meet with representatives of the Chinese government and demand that without human-rights improvements and other concessions,

He said that if he can get into the national debates, the opportunity to “de-demonize” himself will move him up quickly in the polls. “They’ll be scalping tickets for that debate! They’ll be saying, ‘What’s he going to say next?'”

Mr. Whitlock said he invited Mr. Buchanan to Williams County after helping his campaigns for several years.

Mr. Buchanan is not the first presidential candidate to make a visit to Montpelier. In September, 1996, former Sen. Bob Dole – after beating Mr. Buchanan in the Republican primaries – visited the village. His great-grandfather is buried in a cemetery nearby.