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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2004

Democrats begin tour focused on the future

BY JAMES DREW AND JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

DAYTON - Democratic Senators John Kerry and John Edwards made their first public appearances as a ticket yesterday at two stops in Ohio, pledging to campaign "about the future and about restoring hope."

Flanked by their wives and children at an outdoor rally along the downtown Cleveland lakefront, Mr. Kerry said of Mr. Edwards: "This is a man who shares my unyielding optimism and sense of hope about our nation, about the possibilities of the future."

Yesterday's stops in the battleground state of Ohio, while President Bush was spending part of his day in another critical state, Michigan, started a four-day tour for the Democrats that includes Florida, New York, West Virginia, New Mexico, and North Carolina.

In Cleveland, Mr. Edwards said: "John Kerry has spent his life fighting for America. And I can tell you one thing you can take to the bank: He will always tell the American people the truth."

Mr. Kerry spoke for 12 minutes and then introduced Mr. Edwards, who spoke for 10 minutes and didn't outshine Mr. Kerry or reprise his speech about the "Two Americas" that attracted many voters during the primary season.

Mr. Kerry then returned for another 10-minute session that included a barb at Mr. Bush's handling of the federal tax code:

"If the Bush administration had issued the Ten Commandments, I guarantee you would find 635 loopholes in the middle of it."

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Mr. Bush's campaign, said the comments by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards "showed the kind of campaign they intend to run, one that is relentlessly attacking the President, one that is short on substance, and one that will be long on rhetoric."

Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said in

a statement: "The last time a liberal Massachusetts Democrat teamed up with a southern senator to run for president in Ohio, they only won 13 of 88 counties. I guess you could call this ticket Dukakis-Bentsen redux."

But Democrats said the 51-year-old Mr. Edwards does not resemble Lloyd Bentsen, a former U.S. senator from Texas.

"He adds excitement to the ticket," said Chris Gilley, a 54-year-old teacher who lives in Streetsboro.

Mr. Edwards even appeared to loosen up Mr. Kerry a bit:

"We think this is a dream ticket," said Mr. Kerry. "We've got better vision. We've got better ideas. We've got real plans. We've got a better sense of what's happening to America, and we've got better hair."

At times in Dayton, Mr. Edwards received a more enthusiastic response than the top of the ticket.

"Anybody who questions the strength and courage and determination of [Mr. Kerry] needs to spend five minutes with the men who served with him in Vietnam," said Mr. Edwards. "These were the men who were with him then. They are with him today. We need a commander-in-chief who will lead the world, not bully it."

In Cleveland, Mr. Kerry noted that Mr. Edwards, whose father worked in a textile mill and whose mother ran a small furniture store, is the first in his family to graduate from college.

"This is a man who saw the law as a means to improving the life of America and took the challenge to make life better for people who had been hurt by people who are powerful," Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Edwards earned his wealth as a trial lawyer in product liability and medical malpractice cases. He recently reported assets worth $14.3 million to $44.7 million.

Republicans have targeted him as the Bush administration has struggled to get legislation through Congress to cap medical malpractice jury awards and limit attorney contingency fees in such cases.

U.S. Rep. Rob Portman (R., Cincinnati) said he hopes the issue will resonate in Toledo, where thousands of asbestos lawsuits forced Owens Corning into bankruptcy.

"Twenty-two of the 25 top Edwards supporters were law firms in the primary. Not only does he have a strong personal connection to the issue, he has been unabashedly opposed to any kind of reform," Mr. Portman said.

With the Cleveland Browns football stadium in the background, Mr. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, received some playful boos from the Cleveland crowd when she referred to being a "neighbor from Pittsburgh" - a sign of the pro football rivalry between the two cities.

"Don't get sore; we have a lot in common," she replied to laughter.

"It's familiar territory. It's familiar history. It's a familiar set of problems. So many of the big, big cities are industrial. They hurt and need to heal," she said.

Jerry Austin, a Democratic political consultant who managed the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign in 1988, said Ohio remains a "46-46-8 state - with Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry expected this fall to compete for the 8 percent of undecided voters.

"Kerry was running even before he even chose the vice president. I think it's a great shot in the arm. Kerry has a great month of July ending with the convention, and come out with a double-digit lead.

"The Republicans get August, and Bush makes up his own lead and you go into Labor Day dead-even," Mr. Austin said.

Mr. Kerry's decision to choose Mr. Edwards as his running mate has created rare political harmony in the Fiori household in Harrison Township outside Dayton.

Mr. Edwards is the first presidential contender that Tina Fiori and her husband have ever agreed upon.

She is die-hard Democrat. He was a hard-core Republican.

"I voted for [Al] Gore [in 2000]," she said. "He voted for Bush. We were almost divorced over the situation."

Not this year.

"He actually went to the polls and changed his registration to Democrat so he could vote for Edwards in the primary," she said. "When Edwards didn't get [the Democratic presidential nomination], he said, 'Now I don't know who I'm voting for.'‚óŹ''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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