Obama is first president to visit Kent in decades

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President Barack Obama will campaign at Kent State University on Wednesday. The last president to visit Portage County was Richard Nixon. In his tour, he stopped through Aurora, Garrettsville and to one house in Windham. TV2 Reporter Jon Jankowski found the family who hosted the president at their house. Video by Jon Jankowski.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Kent Wednesday will be the first time an incumbent president has visited Portage County in almost 40 years.

As Kent residents prepare to welcome the president, Bill and Ruth Ann Isler remember Oct. 28, 1972 – the day they hosted former President Richard Nixon at their home in Windham.

“I think the most exciting thing for me that day was when the motorcade stopped here, we looked up across the field and there were literally hundreds of people running full speed over our whole field to see the president,” Bill Isler said.

Nixon didn’t plan to stop in Windham, but the Islers knew his motorcade would be driving by their home on Route 82 so they invited some friends over and painted a sheet to read “Stop for a free pumpkin Pat and Dick.” After speaking with a car of Secret Service agents, they waited in anticipation for Nixon’s limousine.

“There were people crying; they were so excited he was here,” Bill Isler said. “I don’t think anybody could believe it was happening here. To have your friends be at your home visiting with the president of the United States is incredible.”

The stop in Windham was important to the campaign because many residents were undecided about their vote, Bill Isler said. He thinks both Nixon and Obama recognized the importance of campaigning in this area.

“I really think that the people at the time Nixon stopped hadn’t made up their mind,” he said. “I felt as though this part of the country could have easily voted against him. I feel as though he felt the more people he came in contact with, the better his chances were.”

Ohio’s population and number of electoral votes have made it a historically important state in presidential campaigns, said Julio Pino, an associate Kent State history professor.

Because it’s such a challenge for candidates to visit as many cities as possible, they focus on areas where they’re likely to win over a significant number of votes, Pino said. Ohio has become increasingly important as a “swing state.”

“It used to be fairly consistent for the Republican side,” he said. “Ever since George Bush II, it’s been kind of up for grabs between the two parties.”

Pino said the student presence in Kent most likely influenced Obama’s decision to visit and provides a correlation between Obama and Nixon’s campaigns. The 26th amendment was ratified July 1, 1971, making the 1972 election the first opportunity for citizens 18 to 21 years old to cast their vote for president.

“Nixon was in untested water, but he was reaching out to the youth vote,” Pino said. “Obama carried [the youth vote] pretty heavily back in 2008 and he’s trying to do that now.”

The last incumbent president to visit Kent was Herbert Hoover when he waved from the window of his train as it slowed down through the city in October 1932.

Contact Alyssa DeGeorge at [email protected].