He renewed a charge that President Bush presided over a lax military operation in Iraq that allowed terrorists to loot a weapons cache of tons of explosives, but his attack was toned down compared to a barrage he leveled at the President earlier this week in Michigan.
The White House has strongly objected to the charge, citing a report aired by a television news crew, embedded with soldiers who came upon the weapons site after the fall of Baghdad last year, only to find the weapons were already gone.
Some facts of the matter are unclear, and President Bush said yesterday an investigation is ongoing.
Otherwise, Mr. Kerry focused on motivating his political ground forces.
"I want you to go out and talk the truth to your friends in the next five days,'' Mr. Kerry said. "I want you to talk to people who aren't committed. I want you to talk to moderate, thoughtful Republicans, independents, people who have turned off to politics. Just tell them the facts. Talk the truth. We need a conversation in America that's real about our future.
"And here's reality,'' he continued. "For all those families that George Bush isn't aware of in America, that he doesn't fight for when he chooses the drug companies or the power companies or the HMOs and the oil companies. For all those families that make America, health-care costs have been going up 64 percent, gasoline prices are up about 35 percent, over two bucks. Tuition costs are up 45 percent. Medicare premiums went up 56 percent over the past four years.
"Every time George Bush has had a choice to be able to choose you, he hasn't chosen you,'' the challenger said.
By virtue of its history, size, and the closeness of the race here, Ohio has become a critical state in the election. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, and its 20 electoral votes are enough to make or break the race again this year.
The candidates are running neck-and-neck in all of the recent public opinion polls, and both candidates have been criss-crossing the state for months. Television sets in every Ohio media market have been awash in presidential campaign ads since December.
Mr. Kerry talked at UT about returning to Ohio after the election, if he wins, to host a "jobs summit.'' He also said he would do better to see that more Americans have health insurance.
"1.4 million Ohioans have no health care at all,'' the Massachusetts senator told the crowd. "Has [Mr. Bush] ever convened all the titans of the industry and brought them to the table and said, 'This is unacceptable. We have to do something about this?' No. We need a president who understands that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy and the elected and the connected, it's a right for all Americans.''
"When I am president of the United States, we're going to open it up. Every child in America is going to be covered. We're going to provide 50 percent tax credit to small business and individuals to be able to afford it. We're going to allow Americans to buy into the same health-care plan senators and congressmen give themselves. If it's good enough for us, it's good enough for everyone in America.''
Mr. Kerry also said Mr. Bush's plan for Social Security would be a disaster for the country.
Republican Rob Portman, who represents a congressional district in the Cincinnati area, said the challenger is getting desperate down the stretch.
"It's a disturbing trend we're seeing in Senator Kerry's campaign. He's making more reckless, baseless charges that have no basis in fact,'' Mr. Portman said. "He continues to talk about a secret plan to reduce Social Security benefits. Senator Kerry is intent on making these reckless, baseless charges.''
Mr. Kerry was introduced by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
"We warmly welcome you to the battleground of Ohio, the north,'' she said, "the most advertised region in the United States in this presidential race. And we know, Senator Kerry, that when you are elected, you won't forget Ohio.''
Arriving on the stage, Mr. Kerry spoke first of sports.
Calling the Boston comeback victory over the New York Yankees and then the sweep of St. Louis "a great American story,'' Mr. Kerry, sporting a Red Sox baseball cap, took a moment to gloat about his hometown team.
"I understand you've got the Reds and the Indians,'' he said. "But you gotta give me just a couple minutes of feeling great. It's been 86 years.
"About a year ago, when things weren't going so well in my campaign, somebody called a radio talk show and they said - they were just cutting me right to the quick - and they said, 'John Kerry won't be president until the Red Sox win the World Series.'
"We're on our way! We're on our way,'' he proclaimed.
Pulling a "lucky buckeye'' nut from his pocket, which was given to him many months ago on the campaign trail, he said he wanted to set it on his desk in the Oval Office so it would bring good luck to the entire country.
In Columbus last night, an estimated 30,000 people jammed the South Oval on the Ohio State University campus to see Mr. Kerry and rocker Bruce Springsteen.
Mr. Springsteen took the stage after Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn.
"In just a few days we will have an opportunity to change the world," Mr. Coleman said. "Despite the efforts to suppress the vote in Ohio, we are going to turn out the vote in unprecedented numbers. "
Mr. Glenn said Mr. Bush would not be president today if he had pledged to give tax cuts to the "wealthy," turn a federal budget surplus into a deficit, and invade Iraq.
Wearing a black jacket and jeans, Mr. Springsteen played an acoustic guitar version of "Promised Land.''
Mr. Springsteen said the stakes in the election include "economic justice, a living wage; a sane and responsible foreign policy," and the environment.
Mr. Springsteen said Mr. Kerry believes in the ideals of "united we stand" and "one nation indivisible"; and that they need to "remain guiding principles" of the United States.
"I want to introduce the next president of the United States," Mr. Springsteen said.
Mr. Kerry bounded on stage and hugged Mr. Springsteen.
"I may be running for president, but we all know who 'The Boss' is. When George Bush heard this, he thought it was Dick Cheney," Mr. Kerry said.
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief James Drew contributed to this report.
Contact Fritz Wenzel at:
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