Friday, October 27, 2000

Ohio crowd revives Bush in Democrat stronghold

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        SWANTON, Ohio — Northwest Ohio is supposed to be a Democratic stronghold.

        Thursday night, a crowd of more than 5,000 Toledo-area voters, many of whom stood in line for hours, crammed into an airport hangar to cheer on the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush.

        What was supposed to be a rally for the Texas governor's stretch run for the White House at times took on the aura of a rowdy rock concert.

        “This man may very soon be our next president,” said Paul Mettes, a retired Toledo firefighter. “If he is, I can say I stood within inches of him as he walked by.”

[photo] George W. Bush and Colin Powell board the Texas governor's campaign plane after a stop in Pittsburgh.
(Eric Gay photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mr. Bush, dressed in a white shirt and a gray tie, appeared tired at first but soon caught on with the crowd's mood.

        “I've had a long day, but it's been made a lot shorter to walk through you thousands of people,” he said. “You're kind of getting me wound up, with all these people here.”

        Mr. Bush spoke for about 30 minutes, hammering away with familiar campaign themes honed by months of campaigning and three televised debates with Democratic Vice President Al Gore.

        Staying on message, he talked about his plans to reform Social Security and Medicare, to strengthen the military and to offer tax cuts to middle-class families.

        “I have nothing against (Mr. Gore) personally, but he thinks Washington is the answer,” Mr. Bush said. “We trust the people of America.”

        On tax relief, he criticized the vice president's plan to target cuts for families who most need it.

        “The (budget) surplus isn't the government's money, Mr. Gore, it's the people's money,” Mr. Bush said.

        While his message was familiar, it was the location and the timing of the event that were the crucial elements of Thursday's campaign stop, Mr. Bush's second visit to Ohio in the past five weeks.

        Though members of Gov. Bob Taft's staff hold out hope for yet another Ohio event, this could be Mr. Bush's final appearance in the Buckeye State.

        If it was, Lucas County Republican leaders say, he could not have picked a better place to try to win over voters.

        Though Lucas County is accurately described as a haven for Democratic candidates, the surrounding counties are packed with Republican-leaning districts.

        Mr. Bush's speech also was broadcast north into Michigan, another battleground state in the race for the White House.

        Though Lucas County is expected to support Mr. Gore, GOP Chairman Patrick Kriner predicted Mr. Bush's visit will help turn out more rural and suburban Re publican voters Nov. 7. A victory in northwest Ohio could help swing the state's 21 electoral votes to the Bush camp, he said.

        “I think we're moving the needle here,” Mr. Kriner said. “This is Mr. Bush's second visit to Toledo. Al Gore has never been here.”

        Voter opinion polls show Mr. Bush has a narrow 2 to 4 percentage point lead over the vice president. After speculation that Mr. Gore had conceded Ohio, the Gore campaign and the Democrat National Party pumped in $900,000 for new television ads.

        Local Democratic Party officials and allies say a northwest Ohio victory for Mr. Bush is far from guaranteed.

        Two hangars down, Democratic officials held a rally of their own that drew up to 400 people. Waving Gore-Lieberman banners, the crowed waved as Bush-Cheney supporters honked and yelled drive-by jeers.

        Ron Stormer, a member of the Toledo Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, predicted the Toledo area would back Mr. Gore. He wondered, however, whether the Gore campaign is taking Lucas County voters for granted.

        “One could make that assumption,” he said.

        Ron Coughenour, spokesman for the Toledo area AFL-CIO, said Mr. Gore still could stop in Toledo to rally the troops.

        “He's got a few days yet,” he said.

        Mr. Bush, however, did his best to encourage the audience to get out the vote and to change Democrats' minds.

        “I want it said I came back to Ohio to look the good people of Toledo in the eye and ask for your help,” he said.

        “Don't be afraid to ask open-minded Democrats to join our campaign.”


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