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Published: Sunday, 9/5/2004

Election fight spills over into battleground state

BY JAMES DREW
AND FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Bush, Kerry stump in Ohio as polls show President is enjoying a post-convention bounce

KIRTLAND, Ohio - President Bush and John Kerry campaigned yesterday in Ohio, using the battleground state to continue the skirmishes that broke out during the Republican National Convention in New York.

Mr. Bush took his campaign bus to two Cleveland suburbs that are key to his hopes for capturing Ohio's electoral votes, as he did four years ago.

"There's nothing better than taking a Saturday bus ride with your family - especially in Ohio," said Mr. Bush, who was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Laura, and their two daughters.

Mr. Kerry started his Ohio tour shortly before midnight on Thursday in Springfield. He campaigned Friday in Newark, and stumped yesterday in Akron and Steubenville, highlighting his domestic agenda but barely mentioning the war on terror that dominated the speeches at the GOP convention last week.

Pledging more government help for education, health care, and job creation, Mr. Kerry's speech came at a time when public opinion polls show the race slipping from his grasp at least temporarily.

Yesterday morning, Mr. Bush told supporters in the Cleveland suburb of Broadview Heights that Ohio has "pockets of unemployment that are unacceptable."

In a rally a few hours later that attracted thousands to a metropark in Kirtland, which is in Lake County, Mr. Bush expressed confidence in the economy and spiritedly defended his decision to topple Saddam Hussein.

He read verbatim several sections of his acceptance speech that he delivered Thursday night to wrap up his party's four-day convention.

Standing in a light rain, Mr. Bush said the U.S. economy is "strong and getting stronger," with 144,000 new jobs created last month, including 22,000 in manufacturing.

The United States . has added 1.7 million new jobs since August, 2003, and the national unemployment rate is 5.4 percent, Mr. Bush said.

"That is a full point below last summer. It is lower than the average rate of the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s," he added.

Turning to a second-term agenda, Mr. Bush pledged to "get rid of these junk lawsuits that threaten our small business owners" and "frivolous lawsuits" that he said drive up health-care costs.

"You can't be pro-doctor, pro-hospital, and pro-patient, and pro-plaintiff attorney at the same time. I think you have to make a choice. My opponent made a choice and he put him on the ticket," said Mr. Bush, referring to U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina who is a former trial attorney.

The crowd interrupted Mr. Bush's speech several times with chants of "U.S.A." and "four more years" as the President discussed the war on terrorism and said his toughest decision was to order U.S. troops into Iraq.

"The decision was, do I trust a madman and forget the lessons of Sept. 11 or defend our country? Given that choice, I will defend America every time," he said.

Stephen Mapes, an Army veteran who served in Germany from 1988 to 1994 as a tank gunner, said he considers Mr. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a "traitor" for later criticizing the war.

Mr. Mapes, 34, referred to the second ad aired by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which used some quotes from Mr. Kerry's testimony to a Senate committee in 1971. Mr. Kerry reported what others said about war crimes at a Vietnam veterans conference in Detroit.

A supervisor at a Mentor machine shop, Mr. Mapes said, "business is booming."

"I guess if you don't have a job, you're going to think the economy is bad," Mr. Mapes said.

Deborah Coke, owner of Kirtland Feed Co., said the economy in the Cleveland area is "terrible."

"As much as people say the economy is growing, I don't see it. My company is the basic level. You have animals and you feed them. When people cut back on that, the next thing is to cut back on feeding your kids," she said.

Ms. Coke said she has not decided who she'll support on Nov. 2.

"I personally don't think either one of them are going to do what they say when they get into office. It will be the lesser of two evils," said Ms. Coke, a 54-year-old resident who lives in Chardon.

Reeling from declining poll numbers two days after the GOP National Convention in New York, Mr. Kerry found himself back on his heels while campaigning in eastern Ohio yesterday, reacting to charges made against him by GOP leaders last week and warning supporters to "examine closely" the case Republicans leaders have constructed against him.

"I don't mind when the barbs come at me. I learned a long time ago how to stand up and fight," Mr. Kerry said. "What I care about is that all those attacks aren't just directed at me, they are directed at you," he told thousands of Akron supporters.

"They can't come here to Akron or to any other place in America and talk about all the jobs that they've created because they haven't," Mr. Kerry added.

Mr. Kerry said yesterday that a government report on employment released Friday showing 144,000 new jobs had been created last month was not satisfactory because experts had expected even more jobs to be created.

"The jobs numbers were less than they predicted, less than they hoped for - again," Mr. Kerry said.

He only briefly mentioned the war on terror, saying that "every step of the way, America was misled into a $200 billion war, and we need new leadership to get our troops home and restores America's respect in the world."

A new Zogby Interactive poll that was in the field during part of the GOP convention shows Mr. Bush has received a bounce.

In Ohio, the poll shows he holds a 10-point lead over Mr. Kerry, 53 percent to 43 percent.

On his way from Akron to Steubenville, Mr. Kerry, a longtime gun owner, stopped to squeeze off a few rounds at a gun range in the Portage County town of Edinburg to brush up on his rifleman skills and burnish his reputation as a hunter in a part of the country where that image could do him some good.

He ended the day with an address at Fort Steuben, on the banks of the Ohio River. With another battleground state - Pennsylvania - as his backdrop, Mr. Kerry again outlined his plan to add more federal help to the nation's health care, education, and retirement systems.

Contact James Drew at: jdrew@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.


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