By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey - the Democratic mayor of a very Democratic rust-belt city - endorsed President Bush for re-election Monday, calling him a "friend" and a "kind, caring, God-fearing man."
The Bush campaign called it the biggest Democratic endorsement in Ohio, and one of the biggest in the country. McKelvey's endorsement puts him in a league with U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., and St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Randy Kelly.
"I'm still waiting for someone to show me what we've gotten in this valley for delivering 70 percent of the vote to Democrats over the last 120 years. Are we not the most depressed valley in Ohio - if not the country?" McKelvey said.
McKelvey met with Bush in 2000 when the Bush-Cheney campaign train came through Youngstown.
In May, Bush praised McKelvey during a campaign stop in Youngstown. The next day, McKelvey sat next to the president at a state dinner and got a private tour of the White House. "A life-altering experience," McKelvey called it.
McKelvey said he hopes to campaign for Bush through a speaking role at next week's Republican National Convention and in a statewide television ad.
Joining McKelvey Monday for his announcement was former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, who chairs the Bush re-election effort in the Ohio Valley region. "The fact that you have a Democratic, urban mayor endorsing the president shows that he thinks the Bush administration understands the challenges of urban centers," she said.
But McKelvey's fellow Democrats downplayed the endorsement, calling the mayor a "Republican running as a Democrat, because he couldn't get elected as a Republican."
"George McKelvey and George Bush pretty much fit with each other. They haven't done much for the city and haven't done much for the country," said State Sen. Robert F. Hagan. "I think George is desperate and needs help from the president. I think he needs a job."
Some speculated that McKelvey, a second-term mayor who's term-limited at the end of 2005, is shopping for a bigger office. But McKelvey said he would remain a Democrat, and his endorsement was based on a "personal friendship."
"I also happen to agree with his policies," McKelvey said, praising Bush for "strong leadership" abroad and an improving economy.
A steel town devastated by job losses since the 1970s, Youngstown's unemployment rate is the state's highest, 14 percent.
William Binning, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University, said few in the Mahoning Valley were surprised by Bush's endorsement from McKelvey, an independent-minded Democrat.
"I don't know if it moves votes, but it creates a political buzz that's genuinely favorable to Bush," Binning said. "If Ohio is the Florida of 2004, and it's a handful of votes that decides the election, then yes, it's important."
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