During his speech in Strongsville, Ohio, on Monday afternoon, President Obama highlighted the struggle of Natoma Canfield
, a cleaning woman from the nearby town of Medina who is fighting cancer without benefit of health insurance. But it was another woman, Ingrid Martin, an out-of-work health care sales representative, who caught his attention -- and debated him on the merits of his health care plan for two minutes after his speech.
Martin has been unemployed for almost six months. Her last job was with HealthSmart, a privately held health care benefit management organization. She has health insurance through her husband, who is a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic.
"When national health care became a real threat over the summertime, I was laid off," Martin said in an exclusive interview with Politics Daily. "They went from six sales reps down to two, east of the Mississippi, and I happened to be one of the last ones. And the big problem now is after 24 years of being in this industry, I've sent out resume after resume, and nobody is hiring right now. I think they're all terrified of what Obamacare's going to do."
Martin said she opposes Obama's health care plan for philosophical, not parochial reasons, and after his speech, she caught the president's attention.
"I didn't clap and I didn't smile, and I just sort of held firm to my beliefs and held my tongue so I didn't get into any trouble," she recalled. "And I think that, being in the front row, he noticed that because when he came down off the stairs and started shaking hands, when he got to me, he said, 'Thanks for coming,' and he looked at me and said, 'Are you OK?' And I said, 'Yes sir, I just don't support your bill'."
Martin said she then entered into about a 2-minute debate reminiscent of Obama's meeting with another Ohioan, Joe Wurzelbacher
(aka "Joe the Plumber"), telling him she worries about the long-term implications of his sweeping legislation. She told the president he was focused on insurance reform, as opposed to the rising cost of health care, which she believes to be the fundamental problem. Martin stressed her view of the need for tort reform. She also noted: "He said things like, 'Medicare is not going to be affected by this bill,' which is not right."
When Obama said that his bill addressed her concerns, "I just kind of shook my head and said, 'I don't believe it does' -- oh my gosh, I'm calling the president a liar," she added with a nervous laugh. Obama then took Martin's business card and promised to send her information on the bill. While she was not persuaded to change her mind and support Obama's policy, she was impressed with him for engaging her. "He took the time to stop and listen, which I appreciated," she said.
White House officials had no comment on the exchange between the president and Martin, but did confirm for Politics Daily that it took place. Besides its similarity to Obama's exchange with Joe the Plumber two years ago when Obama was a candidate, the situation reminded some longtime White House observers of two previous presidents, including Bill Clinton, who would often spend the most time working the "rope line," speaking to dissenters, almost as though he believed he could change America's mind one voter at a time. Monday's event also brought to mind George W. Bush's penchant for speaking in front of friendly audiences composed of people who'd been vetted by his advance team for their loyalty to the president's program. Ingrid Martin was able to attend the rally because a friend, whose husband is a Strongsville police officer and was on the presidential detail, invited her. "I was probably the only one in the room who didn't support" health care reform, she said.
"I was lucky enough to be escorted in to the center this morning by a Secret Service man and put in a nice, warm, cozy waiting room while others were waiting in the rain," she added. "And we were escorted out to the floor and about 12 feet away from the podium. Right dead-center, right in the front row."
Nothing about his exchange with Martin seemed to discourage the president. Afterward, Obama told ABC's Jake Tapper
in a one-on-one interview, "I believe we are going to get the votes; we're going to make this happen."