BOWLING GREEN - John Kerry rolled his campaign into northwest Ohio yesterday to battle for the support of Ohioans in the heart of one of the region's Republican strongholds.
His visit gave thousands of supporters - some from as far away as southern Ohio and others who merely came across town - a chance to see the newly crowned Democratic Party nominee for president.
The intense summer sun wilted some in the crowd that numbered several thousand and clogged North Main Street at East Court Street, but those who remained standing received a blast of political energy.
Introduced by former astronaut and senator John Glenn, Mr. Kerry said the post-convention visit was in part to say "thank you" to the state.
"I just want to remind you it was John Glenn and Ohio that put me over the top for the nomination. You gave me that nomination. Ohio has had eight presidents, ladies and gentlemen. You know what I gleaned from that momentous occasion [Thursday] at the convention? Ohio knows a president when it sees one."
Reminding the crowd that he had once lived in Ohio as a young boy, Mr. Kerry pulled a buckeye from his pocket, saying he had received it as a gift from an Ohio child during the state's primary election campaign. He said he keeps it in his pocket as a good luck charm.
"I carry this with me everywhere I go," he told the crowd.
Ohio may be the key to his White House dreams. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying the state. President Bush campaigned across Ohio on Friday and Saturday.
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Mr. Kerry pledged help for the American economy, zeroing in on a topic that polls show voters will consider when they choose a candidate this fall. He also pitched his health-care reform plan and promised more federal help on education.
"We are going to restore America's ability in manufacturing. We've got the incentives we're going to create, not with a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, but with incentives to help companies invest in the jobs of the future," he said.
"We're going to create innovation and technology and research that creates the good jobs of the future, and we are going to shut those loopholes that actually have you with your tax dollars rewarding the company to take your job overseas."
He said he would create a "fair playing field" in trade by enforcing labor standards in NAFTA, which he said would keep American jobs from racing over the Mexican border.
His shots at President Bush were veiled, promising never to send soldiers to war "because we can, but only because we have to."
"We're going to do something that is long overdue in American politics. We are going to tell the truth to the American people, and we're going to trust the American people with the truth," he said, another reference to charges among Democrats that Mr. Bush misled the public about the reasons for the Iraq war.
Lucas County Auditor Larry Kaczala, the GOP challenger to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), handled comments for the Bush/Cheney campaign yesterday. He said Mr. Kerry's Senate voting and attendance records show he might not be strong in waging the war in Iraq or the war on terror.
"Troops from Ohio are honorably serving in Iraq to make America more secure, ensuring that the front line of the war on terror remains in Baghdad and not here in America. Kerry and his running mate are two of only four senators to vote in favor of the Iraq war and then vote against $87 billion in funding to equip our troops with essential supplies like body armor," Mr. Kaczala said.
The crowd here also got a dose of the folksy John Edwards, the North Carolina senator and Mr. Kerry's running mate, in the last joint appearance the two made together before splitting up to cover more ground.
Mr. Edwards flew to Florida last night to campaign, while Mr. Kerry continued his Midwestern ground game, rolling a 17-vehicle motorcade across the border into Michigan.
He will continue until he hits the Pacific Ocean before midmonth, trying to capitalize on the publicity built by the Democratic National Convention last week.
On Saturday night, the Kerry campaign chose Zanesville for its rally. Like Bowling Green, Zanesville, with about 25,000 people in east-central Ohio, represents an important area for the campaign.
A new Zogby Interactive poll shows Mr. Kerry getting clobbered in Ohio's small cities, trailing Mr. Bush by a 58 percent to 37 percent margin.
In rural Ohio, it is worse for Mr. Kerry, who trails 68 percent to 31 percent.
Statewide, Mr. Bush leads 51 percent to 46 percent, the new poll shows. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.
Contact Fritz Wenzel at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.