Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry made a pickup and delivery during his campaign stop at the University of Toledo yesterday, gaining endorsements from prominent Ohioans and pledging a new direction for the American economy, should he be elected president.
He also promised not to cut future Social Security benefits as a way to help reduce the escalating federal budget deficit.
Holding huge leads in public opinion polls in both New York and California - the two largest of 10 states where, with Ohio, voters go to the polls next week, Mr. Kerry concentrated on Ohio yesterday morning, delivering a speech highlighting the need to create more and better jobs across the nation.
Ohio is the third-largest prize up for grabs Tuesday.
“Under George Bush, Americans have been working harder just to stay where they are,” Mr. Kerry, the junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, told the crowd of 1,200 packed into the university s Student Union auditorium.
“Too many have seen corporate scandals destroy their retirement savings and their pension. Too often those who cut corners and break laws get special benefits while those who do what s right get the short end of the stick. It s not hard to see why so many people think they are working for the economy, but the economy is not working for them.”
While President Bush has said in speeches around the country, including one last month at Owens Community College, that the American economy has taken several “hits,” including the 2001 terrorist attacks, the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and corporate and Wall Street scandals, Mr. Kerry yesterday laid blame for economic troubles squarely at the feet of the President.
“George W. Bush is adding a million dollars a minute to the deficit. I am running for president to bring fiscal sanity back to Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Kerry said. “The right way to deal with the deficit is to create jobs, strengthen our economy, create a fair playing field for our trade relationships in the world, and to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Reacting to testimony yesterday by Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, urging Congress to deal with the deficit by cutting benefits for future Social Security retirees, Mr. Kerry promised he would oppose such a move.
“No matter what was said in Washington just this morning, the wrong way to deal with the deficits is to cut Social Security benefits,” Mr. Kerry told the Toledo audience.
“If I am president, we are simply not going to do it, and if I am the Democratic nominee - and I welcome this debate - this is a debate that I will win and we will win and we will restore the economy in a way that is fair to Americans without destroying the solemn contract of Social Security.”
Mr. Greenspan warned a meeting of the House Budget Committee that, with no action, interest rates could rise, causing serious harm to the economy. The problem, he said, could worsen when the Baby Boom generation begins to retire in just four years.
Mr. Kerry pledged to “scour” the U.S. tax code to find ways to simplify it, and to reduce the burden that unnecessary provisions impose on businesses.
He said he wants to repeal the Bush tax cuts for those making $200,000 or more. He also opposes making those temporary tax cuts permanent, as Mr. Bush proposed in his State of the Union speech last month.
Kevin Madden, spokesman for the Bush re-election campaign, said the President offers a stark contrast to the Kerry economic proposals.
“The President believes the people of Ohio deserve to have more money in their pocket so they can spend it and invest it. John Kerry believes that we need to raise taxes. Those types of policies would derail the economic recovery we are seeing right now and would kill jobs in Ohio,” Mr. Madden said.
With time beginning to run out before the primary, the campaigns of Mr. Kerry and his chief rival, Sen. John Edwards (D., N.C.), continue to haggle over a possible debate in Ohio - perhaps Toledo - before Tuesday.
James Ruvolo, an Ottawa Hills resident who is chairman of Mr. Kerry s Ohio campaign, said yesterday it appears unlikely his candidate will go face-to-face with Mr. Edwards in Ohio.
It “looks like the calendar is running out for any more debates,” Mr. Ruvolo said.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who last week asked Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards to debate in Toledo because of the number of jobs lost in the region, said last night: “We ve got five days before Super Tuesday. I would say Ohio s the battleground state of the Midwest, certainly on Super Tuesday, and we would respectfully ask them to reconsider and come right into our area.”
“Let them try a little harder, work a little harder” to make the debate here possible, she said. “We re in the top three states for job loss in the nation. We want a discussion on jobs and the economy.
“Ohioans so want to hear their message,” Miss Kaptur said. “They can help express the concerns of our people. I think it would have a riveting effect at this point on the dynamic toward November. It would establish the baseline for November. It s important that they come.”
The candidates will square off in a televised debate in Los Angeles today and again Sunday in New York.
Patrick Dillon, spokesman for the Edwards campaign, said: “If Senator Kerry thought that the people of Ohio should have a debate here, I imagine his people would find the time to have one. There are enough days left, and there are still issues that need to be talked about.”
The Blade and WTVG-TV, Channel 13, have issued a formal invitation to the candidates to appear together in Toledo.
Two important Democratic figures announced at yesterday s UT campaign rally their endorsement of Mr. Kerry - former U.S. Sen. John Glenn and Toledo Mayor Jack Ford.
Mr. Glenn said he supports his former colleague, a high school senior when Mr. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962, because “he s addressed the problems people are concerned about,” chief among them the federal budget deficit.
“People are rightfully concerned when they see enormous tax cuts, most of which go to the wealthy. The result, the largest deficit in all American history, $521 billion,” Mr. Glenn said. “We are living on borrowed money and expect our children and grandchildren to pay off a mortgage that they did not create. I am sure you say that s not fair, I say that s not fair, and John Kerry says that s not fair, and he will change it.”
Mr. Ford tossed his “unrelenting” support behind Mr. Kerry, saying he believes the Massachusetts senator is the best choice.
“Now more than ever we need a president who is for Toledo,” Mr. Ford said. “We need a president who knows how to get the economy going and to bring back jobs.”
“Toledo, Ohio, is the American city,” Mayor Ford said. “The values, the opportunities, and the challenges that built America are right here. They are the same in Toledo s past, her present, and her future.”
The Kerry visit was an economic boon to the UT College Democrats, which have come back to life after a period of dormancy.
Gabrielle Seay, the group s vice president, was among a handful of group members selling Kerry buttons to those on their way to the rally.
“This is a fund-raiser for us. Our group is new to campus, so we are still trying to find ways to make some money to survive,” she said.
Mr. Kerry played to the local crowd.
“I know that you are known here as the Rockets. I just want to assure you that we did not plan to have John Glenn here because of that,” Mr. Kerry said. “But because you are the Rockets, I can come here and get a great boost so we can blast George Bush out of office.”
Though international relations and the war with Iraq figured prominently in his campaign speeches in earlier primary and caucus states, Mr. Kerry made just one veiled reference to the war in his UT remarks, receiving vibrant applause from the student-dominated crowd.
“What we need to do as we enter this dawn of the 21st century, is not talk about going to the Moon or even to Mars. We need to go to the Moon right here on Earth by creating the jobs, building the high value-added jobs of the future, making clear that no young American in uniform ever ought to be held hostage to America s dependence on oil in the Middle East,” he said.