Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Sandal whappers serenade Kerry

Reporter's Notebook

By Gregory Korte and Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is swarmed by admirers during his Tuesday appearance at Sawyer Point downtown. One of the homemade signs hoisted there read: "Outsource Bush."
The Cincinnati Enquirer/STEVEN M. HERPPICH
John Kerry had seen the tactic before - it emerged on the campaign trail last week - but few others seemed to understand what was going on.

Young Republicans wearing cheap sandals got in the front row and started clapping them together almost as soon as the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Sawyer Point on Tuesday.

Their message: that Kerry has flip-flopped on the issues.

"There's nothing I like better than talking to a great bipartisan crowd," Kerry joked. "You want to talk about flip-flops? This president said Condoleezza Rice wasn't going to testify, and the next day, she's going to testify."

Some union workers quickly surrounded the dozen Republicans with Kerry signs. Some elbows were thrown - as were some sandals - until two Cincinnati police officers broke it up.

The Hamilton County Republican Party disavowed any knowledge of the tactic, and Rep. Rob Portman - forced to field a question about the tactic in the official Republican response - seemed befuddled by it.

"I'm not sure hitting yourself in the head with a flip-flop makes a particularly compelling case," he said. "He's changed his position on a number of issues, and that's frustrating to me."

Particularly perplexing, Portman said, was Kerry's criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act. "I look at his record, and he voted for it."

STAND-UP GUY: For a "stand-in" candidate, Erich Streckfuss was standing on prime real estate Tuesday.

Streckfuss is the president of the University of Cincinnati College Democrats, and he's the "placeholder" Democratic candidate to run against Pat DeWine for the Hamilton County Commission this November.

But Tuesday, he managed to plant himself in the middle of the backdrop of Democrats - Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union members, elected Democrats and other candidates - to get maximum time on national TV.

With political skills like those, Democratic Party Co-Chairman Tim Burke said, Streckfuss has a political future beyond ballot-filler.

Streckfuss got Kerry to autograph a campaign sign: "To the UC College Dems. John Kerry."

"It's the club's property - until I graduate," he said.

FINGERHUT DIRECT: State Sen. Eric Fingerhut used John Kerry's visit as a chance to trumpet his own run for the U.S. Senate.

"I think what's going on in this state is we know it's time for a change, but we don't know what the alternative is," the Cuyahoga County Democrat told the crowd.

Aren't Democrats the traditional alternative to Republicans?

"Democratic candidates over the last decade haven't always forcefully given (voters) that alternative," Fingerhut said afterward.

Fingerhut is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, former governor of Ohio.

STAGE PLAY: Getting on the stage at a political rally is part who you are and part whom you know.

The oldest dignitary was Cincinnati Board of Education member and former Gov. Jack Gilligan, 83. The youngest was Josephine Therese Ruther, age 4 months. She's the daughter of Elliot Ruther, an aide to Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley, and his wife, Jessica. It also helps that she's photogenic.

"I asked if they wanted a baby up there, and they said yes," Ruther said. "She tends to do pretty well in crowds."

ON THE BUS: Graeter's got all the glory Tuesday, but another local company, Kroger, fed the all-important national press.

Chef's Choice, Kroger's catering division, supplied lunch for reporters. It included macaroni and cheese, barbecue, chicken, red potatoes, Greek salad, white sheet cake and cookies.

More than two dozen journalists traveled from Washington with the Kerry campaign Tuesday, including reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Cable News Network and Reuters news service.

Their office away from home was a cordoned-off area under one of the brick arches at Yeatman's Cove. Perhaps under the theory that a well-fed press corps is a happy press corps, tables for reporters' laptops were set up right next to the lunch spread.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Pre-printed campaign signs dominated the audience: "10 million jobs" and "Teamsters for Kerry" and the plain old "John Kerry for President."

But the art of the homemade campaign sign clearly is not lost. The best of the rest: "Outsource Bush," and "Kerry US back to the White House."

QUOTABLE: "Senator Kerry has not yet picked a running mate. We need to tell him my summer is free." - state Sen. Mark Mallory, warming up the crowd before Kerry's arrival.

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