PORTSMOUTH, OHIO - Vice presidential candidate John Edwards promised workers at a southern Ohio uranium enrichment plant that their jobs would be safe under a John Kerry presidency.
"John Kerry and I will make sure the Piketon plant stays open [and] that the new Piketon plant is built and built on schedule," the Democratic North Carolina senator told about 75 union members outside their hall as he toured economically struggling Appalachian counties in Ohio and West Virginia yesterday.
"Not only that, we're also going to make sure that the workers who've been sick get the help that they need," he said.
The stop came less than a week after President Bush visited the region and met with four Piketon workers, demonstrating that, while Ohio is considered the national battleground, southeastern Ohio is the state's battleground.
The plant, which once employed about 2,500, was scheduled to close several years ago, but it was placed on standby after George W. Bush was elected. The plant employs about 1,200 today while a new defluorination plant is constructed to remove fluorine from thousands of tons of depleted uranium to make it marketable for fuel at nuclear power plants.
"Bush made a promise in 2000 as governor of Texas, and he honored that promise " said Chuck Wiltshire, of the Triangle of Prevention Program, a safety program with the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union. Despite that promise, he supports Mr. Kerry.
"We're not sure about the future for one thing," he said. "We haven't gotten a letter of support from President Bush, and it isn't because we haven't asked."
Bush spokesman Kevin Madden said it was hypocritical for the Democratic ticket to talk up nuclear jobs in southern Ohio while opposing federal plans to store nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
"The Piketon plant was hemorrhaging jobs under the previous administration," he said. "Because of President Bush, Piketon is creating jobs in the Portsmouth area, which is important to southern Ohio. The President is cognizant that Piketon is vital to the nation's energy. The President is committed to the plant."
Ohio and West Virginia went with Mr. Bush in 2000 over Al Gore by margins of 3.5 and 6 percent respectively. But the Kerry-Edwards ticket is banking that it can deny Mr. Bush the two states' total of 25 electoral votes in 2004 by focusing on regions that have missed the economic turnaround touted by the President.
Ohio's and West Virginia's unemployment rates for July, the latest figures available, were 5.9 and 5.1 percent respectively, compared to an August national average of 5.4 percent.
In Scioto County, Ohio, where Mr. Edwards rallied yesterday, voters opted for Mr. Bush by 4 percentage points in 2000. The county's jobless rate is 8.5 percent.
"One out of every five jobs lost in America was lost right here in Ohio," Mr. Edwards said during a rally in the center of Portsmouth on the Ohio River. "Why in the world would people in Ohio rehire a man to be their president who lost them 230,000 jobs?"
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