By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COLUMBUS - The first shoots of what Republicans are calling their strongest-ever grass-roots effort pushed to the surface Friday as the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign opened its Ohio headquarters here.
"We've been on the ground quite awhile," national campaign Chairman Marc Racicot said. "(But) the campaign takes a slightly different glide path now."
The visit by Racicot, former governor of Montana, marked the beginning of the two-way race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry after the Democrat's decisive Super Tuesday primary wins. It will be followed quickly by a visit from the president himself, at a conference on women's entrepreneurship Wednesday in Cleveland.
"Ohio is absolutely essential," he said. "It has a lot of delegates, and Ohio, being in the heartland, represents the views of a lot of the country."
Bush's campaign here will start with eight paid staffers and 12,000 volunteers, Racicot said.
Strategists aim to expand that number to 50,000 volunteers, including volunteer leaders for 600 of Hamilton County's 1,013 precincts, according to Mike Allen, the campaign chairman for Southwest Ohio.
Republican Gov. Bob Taft also attended Friday's opening.
Kerry's going to be working the state's grass roots, too. He is not ready to announce plans for his Ohio campaign, spokeswoman Kathy Roeder said Friday, but it will build upon the volunteers who organized to help him win Tuesday.
"We made the field effort an integral part of the primary campaign, and we plan to do so again in the general election," Roeder said.
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