University, city favored as major stops for presidential candidates

In-Focus Editor and In-Focus Editor

Just how important is Bowling Green and Wood County in national elections?

When Libertarian Gary Johnson spoke at Cla-Zel last week, he became the eighth presidential candidate to campaign in Bowling Green since 1984. That’s an average of one candidate per election cycle, all making their way to northwest Ohio to court local voters.

Five candidates toured Bowling Green or the University in 2012 alone, including both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Earlier this year, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich attended a Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in the University ballroom during the Republican primary season.

The dinner’s namesake himself came to campus in 1984. Ronald Reagan, seeking re-election against Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, was greeted by Freddy and Frieda as he spoke to 5,000 students and supporters in Anderson Arena on Sept. 26, 1984, according to a BG News article from the time.

A BG News photo features the mascots holding a Bowling Green jersey reading “Reagan” with 84 underneath.

Emphasizing military strength, Reagan told the crowd that America would continue to establish relationships with countries to avoid conflicts.

“The world is a dangerous place,” he said. “Uncle Sam is a friendly old man, but he has a spine of steel.”

Nearly 30 years later, as the University’s basketball team moved from Anderson Arena to the Stroh Center across campus, so did presidential visits.

President Barack Obama, campaigning in Bowling Green last month at the Stroh, gave a similar message to his own 5,000 students and supporters.

“We’re going to maintain the strongest military the world has ever known,” he said.

In the 1990s, candidates Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush made whistle stops in Bowling Green, campaigning throughout the country by train.

As Bush sought re-election in 1992, he spoke to a crowd of over 8,000 near Reed Street and Frazee Avenue. The Republican incumbent said that he was more qualified to fight for the middle class, The BG News reported.

“I want an America where every graduate of this great school can find a good, decent job,” he said.

Just months later, former Ark. Gov. Bill Clinton won the presidency. Four years later, Clinton followed Bush and Reagan’s footsteps, visiting Bowling Green during his own re-election bid.

Down the tracks from his former opponents’ visit, Clinton addressed around 20,000 supporters on Wooster Street near Dairy Queen.

“I have been and will continue to work hard to give hope, direction and progress to American life,” Clinton said.

Tim Newman, a political science instructor, said that politicians give Bowling Green attention because of the variety of constituents. Wood County includes student voters with the University, urban voters and various other demographics, he said.

Evidence of the area’s importance could be found in Santorum and Gingrich’s decision to campaign at the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in March of this year. With students out of town for spring break, the two candidates battled in Ohio for the Republican Party nomination for president.

With the “Super Tuesday” primaries days away and nearly a dozen states set to vote, two of the final four Republicans in the race were both in Bowling Green to fight for local voters.

“I’m not asking for your life, I’m not asking for your fortune,” Santorum said in his speech. “I’m asking you most decidedly for your honor.”

Both candidates were eventually defeated by Mitt Romney, who hosted a town hall event at the Bowling Green Convention Center in July. Romney campaigned with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and several other local politicians.

“It’s time to have the principles you see here apply to Washington,” Romney said.

Of the five presidential candidates who visited Bowling Green or the University this year, three will be on the ballot this Tuesday. Whoever wins, locals can say they saw the next President of the United States.