- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2008

— RICHMOND | Health care, Social Security and government gridlock were on the minds of Virginians as the Democratic Party videotaped questions last week to be fielded at the party’s national convention in Denver.

Richmond was the last of seven cities chosen for the project called “America’s Town Hall,” in which questions will be answered live from the convention floor or online through an interactive dialogue.

More than 35 people showed up for the three-hour event, officials said.

Democrats also taped questions Wednesday in Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.; and Tampa, Fla. - all cities that are in potential swing states in Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign battle with Republican Sen. John McCain.

“Virginia is critical to our win in November,” said Ashley Etienne, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama’s state campaign office. “This is a wonderful opportunity, not just for local residents here, but for our party as well because we get the opportunity to hear from everyday folks and sort of get an understanding of what their concerns are.”

Amid booths offering homemade jewelry, clothes, candles and fresh produce at the 17th Street Farmers Market, Virginians such as the Rev. Malcolm Andress III waited their turn to videotape questions for elected leaders and speakers at the convention, which starts Aug. 25.

Mr. Andress, 36, and the owner of Soul Ice, a street vendor at the market, asked about tax credits for minority, small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“This is a country built off of small businesses,” he said. “It’s really about the cash flow. … By having those tax breaks, it allows the company to have more cash flow so it can continue its operations.”

Kirsten Taranto, 67, of Richmond, asked: “How do you think we would ever be able to get a national health care system in this country?”

Miss Taranto, a native of England, said she is seeing the benefits of the British system firsthand, noting that her 92-year-old ill mother has a doctor come to her house the same day when she has a problem.

She also said such a system could be implemented in the United States because the pharmaceutical and health-insurance industries are “so against a national health care system” and contribute a lot of money to politicians.

Ted Sandelli, 67, a volunteer with AARP from Chesterfield, who is working on a campaign about such issues as health care and Social Security, posed the first question of the day.

“How do you minimize gridlock?” he asked. “I don’t know how they possibly get a bill passed that involves more than one state if everybody has self interests, so we just move on.”

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