By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
CANTON, Ohio - President Bush told Ohio voters Saturday he knows the state has struggled through the recession, but the economy "is turning a corner, and we're not turning back."
"The economy is strong and it's getting stronger," he said at a campaign rally in Canton before making stops in Dover and Cambridge.
"It lags in places like eastern Ohio, I know that. I'm aware of that. I just traveled on the bus with workers who told me they are nervous about their future. They're concerned. I am, too. And, therefore, we must have a president who understands that in order to keep jobs at home, America must be the best place to do business."
Later, on a muddy American Legion baseball diamond in Cambridge, Bush repeated that parts of Ohio have "lagged behind."
"But let me tell you something, raising your taxes isn't going to create jobs. Isolating America from the rest of the world isn't going to create new jobs. Voting against energy policy isn't going to create new jobs. We will not rest until every American who wants to find a job, has one."
Bush swung through eastern Ohio Saturday on a campaign bus tour that started in the rust belt and continued on through Appalachia and into Pennsylvania. In between speeches - and with just a few minutes' notice by the Secret Service - he stopped into a fourth-generation family-owned candy store in Dover for chocolate-covered caramels and some folksy chat.
Bush is calling the trip the "Heart and Soul of America" tour. The campaign blasted the George Strait song "Heartland" on loudspeakers before and after each speech.
"I'm running against an opponent who thinks the heart and soul of America is in Hollywood," Bush said, referring to a comment John Kerry made recently at a New York fund-raiser. "I know where you find the heart and soul of America, right here in places like Cambridge, Ohio."
Though he borrowed liberally from his standard stump speech, Bush clearly knew where he was. In Cambridge, in the heart of Ohio coal country, he told a rain-soaked crowd of 13,500 that he shares Kerry's desire to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
"We have a difference of opinion on this. My opponent said - he called coal a 'dirty energy source.' " The crowd booed.
In Canton, Sen. George Voinovich said the administration's investigation of alleged dumping of foreign steel had helped to save Ohio jobs.
Voinovich, the former Republican governor who's campaigning for a second term as senator, introduced the president for the first time in four years Saturday, after a falling out over the budget and the senator's vote against Bush's education reforms.
"Mr. President, I want you to know that everyone in this room is praying for you, and we ask the Holy Spirit to help you in your decision-making," Voinovich said.
Chris Spielman - the former Massillon High School, Ohio State University and Cleveland Browns linebacker who's immensely popular in northeastern Ohio - said the energy of the campaign felt like an Ohio State game.
Spielman said Bush would fight evil abroad, protect the unborn, and "put God back in school, where he belongs."
But the economy was the main theme of Bush's campaigning, and the trip to Canton was designed partly to counter Kerry's repeated use of Canton steelworkers to personify Ohio's job loss.
A worker facing possible layoffs at Canton's Timken Co. spoke to the Democratic National Convention via satellite a week ago. And in his acceptance speech Thursday, Kerry spoke of a Canton steel worker who "saw his job sent overseas and the equipment in his factory literally unbolted, crated up, and shipped thousands of miles away."
Canton's Republican Mayor, Janet Weir Creighton, said she's sick of Democrats and the national media using Stark County as an example of everything that's wrong with the economy.
"I know we've had our share of tough times locally. But companies that call Canton and Stark County home are rising up to meet the challenges of the global economy," she said. "This mayor will not stand by while the bashers take potshots."
Dan Sciury, executive secretary of the Greater Stark County AFL-CIO, said the area has lost 4,000 jobs - not including the jobs that will be lost if the Timken Co. shuts down and the North Canton-based Hoover Co. moves its headquarters to Iowa."Mayor Creighton is sleeping under a rock. She needs to get off the eighth floor of City Hall and take a look at what's going on," he said. "Bush has had four years and he still doesn't understand a thing about working people."
Sciury helped lead a few dozen protesters who met Bush in Canton. At the Canton Memorial Civic Center, pro- and anti-Bush factions yelled at each other from across Market Avenue North.
"Four more years," chanted the GOP faithful.
"Four more months," rejoined the Democrats.
One of the Democrats was Preston Smith, a 54-year-old iron worker from Carrolton who works part time in Massillon's water treatment plant. "Our work is all temporary help. Bush makes it even more temporary," he said. "He's helped kill our steel industry. Steel mills were a big part of our work. Everything's imported now."
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