Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Enough to make a voter's head spin

Messages come fast and furious on the Ohio campaign trail

By Carl Weiser, Enquirer Washington Bureau
and Gregory Korte, The Cincinnati Enquirer

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WASHINGTON - Someone Tuesday should have warned Ohioans: Beware of hurled slogans, flying insults, and spinning opinions.

That's what happens when a presidential campaign comes to town, especially in a pivotal state during a hard-fought election.

Environmentalists, anti-Bush activists and Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign let loose a volley of ads, press releases, calls, news conferences and demonstrations targeting the Ohio voter.

"We want people in this region to not be misguided by President Bush's rhetoric," said state Sen. Mark Mallory, co-chairman of the Hamilton County Democrats.

"We don't expect John Kerry to win Hamilton County, but we can certainly reduce the amount of votes by which he loses."

And that could give the presumptive Democratic nominee from Massachusetts the ultimate prize: Ohio's 20 electoral votes.

Bush "isn't going to see us personally, but he can't see a lot of things," said Sister Alice Gerdeman, coordinator of Cincinnati's Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, who was organizing anti-Bush demonstrations.

"What we hope is the message will get to him through community members that do see us," she said.

"One of the ways policies are made in the U.S. is by trying to get a sense of what the people want. And one of the ways ... is by protest."

The protests were part of a two-day campaign to counter Bush's bus tour:

•  The Kerry campaign answered President Bush's "Yes, America Can" bus tour with a "George Bush Can't Do the Economy" publicity onslaught.

"The president's failed economic policies have cost Ohio more than 220,000 jobs, yet all he offers are empty slogans," said Phil Singer, a Kerry spokesman.

•  The Sierra Club took out half-page ads in the Enquirer and two other newspapers denouncing the administration's clean-air record.

"The Bush administration has spent the past three years reversing decades of environmental progress and leaving our communities at risk from increased soot and smog in our air, more mercury in our water, a delay in toxic-waste cleanups, and more big-corporation mining, drilling and logging of public land," said Glen Brand, the environmental group's Midwest regional representative.

The group protested Bush with a banner across from Cincinnati Gardens that said: "Neighbors together, standing up, speaking out, protecting Ohio's environment from the Bush Administration."

Kerry's Ohio press secretary, Kathy Roeder, sought out reporters on Bush's bus who might get interviews with the president. She wanted to suggest questions: How can Bush suggest tax cuts are working in a state that has lost so many jobs? And if Bush is running such a positive campaign, why are his spokespeople criticizing Kerry's war record?

The Kerry campaign launched a $25 million ad campaign Tuesday, broadcasting ads in Ohio that touted Kerry's war-hero record.

Monday, the Kerry campaign questioned whether Bush had changed the name of his bus tour from "Winning the War on Terror" to "Yes, America Can."

The Kerry campaign also suggested a reason: Bush had second thoughts about exploiting the war on terror for political gain - or maybe the United States wasn't winning and was still vulnerable.

Wrong, said the Bush campaign. "Winning the War on Terror" was a separate campaign with news conferences around the country, including one last week by Rep. Rob Portman in Evendale.

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