By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
ZANESVILLE, Ohio - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry brought his campaign into eastern Ohio Saturday with a speech that borrowed heavily from his nomination acceptance speech.
"The strength of America is great when its leaders tell the truth to the American people,'' Kerry told a crowd at the Muskingum County Courthouse that endured periodic downpours waiting for the rally to begin.
Kerry, sounding a bit hoarse, was animated as he and running mate John Edwards took the stage at 10:20 p.m. Former Ohio senator John Glenn and actor Ben Affleck accompanied the ticket. Rally organizers estimated 10,000 people attended the event.
Zanesville was the last stop for the day on the "Believe in America" bus tour that began in Pennsylvania and moved west through West Virginia into Ohio.
Kerry's stop in this city of 25,000 in rural, southeast Ohio closed downtown streets, but it opened up the town to presidential election attention not seen since 1912, when President William Howard Taft appeared at the courthouse.
Kerry frequently used the catchphrase "help is on the way'' to describe what his administration would do to solve problems. The phrase became a familiar refrain at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Kerry said he and Edwards will focus on making jobs more secure and keeping them from going overseas.
"We're going to fight for your jobs as hard as we fight for our own,'' he said.
He also said he would ensure that every child is covered by health insurance and that he would pay for the benefits by rolling back Bush tax cuts to those earning more than $200,000.
"Health care is a right for all Americans, and we'll make it accessible to all Americans,'' Kerry said.
For Kerry, a key to winning Ohio is cutting into the huge advantage Bush built up in Muskingum County and across the Appalachian region.
In 1992, the seven-county region where Kerry and Bush spoke Saturday was almost evenly split between President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In fact, Clinton actually got 217 more votes.
But in 2000, Bush won those seven counties by nearly 15,400 votes over Al Gore.
Stopping here as part of his 15-day coast-to-coast bus tour ensures Kerry won't repeat the "big mistake" Al Gore made in 2000 by not fighting for the area, said Kerry-Edwards campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri.
Larry Merry, executive director of the Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority, said the county has seen four companies add about 450 manufacturing jobs since January.
But there is anxiety about the area's economic climate, which is based heavily on manufacturing, health care and the county's three universities.
The largest employer, basket-maker Longaberger Co., announced it could lay off up to 970 workers in September, and will close two plants for a week this month because of slow sales. AK Steel union workers are also concerned about their jobs.
"When we lose high-paying jobs and don't replace them, we feel that," said Blair Magaziner, a Zanesville-area attorney, while workers set up for Kerry's speech. "It doesn't feel like things are getting better here."
Magaziner thinks local voters will connect to Kerry's record as a veteran, and to Edwards' background as a millworker's son who was the first in his family to attend college.
"That's us," he said. "A lot of us have that same background."
But in this county, where residents tend to be traditionally conservative and deeply religious, values can be an even bigger influence on how they vote, said state Sen. Joy Padgett, a Republican from Coshocton who represents the region.
"Whether it's defense of marriage, pro-life or pro-gun, they favor President Bush, and he probably will carry this area again," she said.
The last Democrat presidential candidate to carry Muskingum County was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed from Wheeling, W. Va.
The campaign for president came to Ohio by bus Saturday. President Bush visited Stark County and John Kerry stopped in Muskingum County.
Median household income (1999): $39,824
2000 presidential vote: Bush (78,153 votes to 75,308 for Gore)
Median household income (1999): $35,185
2000 presidential vote: Bush (17,995 votes to 13,415 for Gore)
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