Sunday, September 5, 2004

Ohio hotly contested

Candidates spend Labor Day
weekend chasing votes

By Mary Dalrymple
and Deb Riechmann
The Associated Press

AKRON - President Bush and John Kerry battled over the economy and jobs in a small corner of the campaign's most fiercely contested state Saturday as polls showed a post-convention surge for the Republican in the White House.

"They promised to create 6 million jobs, and guess what? They're about 7 million short," said Kerry, who also criticized the administration's new 17 percent increase in Medicare premiums.

"They can't come here to Akron or to any other place in America and talk to you about all the jobs that they created, because they haven't," he added.

A few miles up Interstate 77 outside Cleveland, Bush conceded the state has "pockets of unemployment that are unacceptable."

At the same time, he said, "the economy is strong and getting stronger," and accused his Democratic rival of proposing tax increases that would crimp the economy.

"He's not going to be taxing anybody in '05, because he's not going to win," the president added quickly to applause from his supporters in Broadview Heights. "We're going to win Ohio - and we're going to win the country."

Kerry has said he would restore taxes to pre-Bush levels on people earning more than $200,000 to help pay for expanded health care coverage.

Bush and Kerry both chose Ohio for their stage at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, traditionally viewed as the kickoff for the fall campaign.

No Republican - Bush included - has ever won the White House without carrying the state, but lingering unemployment and anger about jobs getting shipped overseas have made the state a tossup.

Both men campaigned across the northeastern, Democratic part of the state, signaling a desire by Kerry to maximize his support, and an attempt by the president to hold down his rival's margins.

With little more than eight weeks remaining to Election Day, a Newsweek survey gave the president a lead of 52-41 over Kerry, with independent Ralph Nader at 3 percent.

A Time magazine poll released a day earlier also made it an 11-point race.

"We're doing good," Kerry told an Ohio supporter. "They're going to get a bounce out of the convention, but we'll be coming back."

Presidential candidates often enjoy a boost in support in polls taken in the wake of their party conventions. Sometimes that can portend victory - but such gains also can melt away rapidly in the heat of a fall campaign.

The Newsweek poll of 1,008 registered voters was taken Thursday and Friday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll also found Bush's approval rating at 52 percent, the first time it has topped 50 percent in the magazine's surveys since January. Also, 53 percent said they wanted to see Bush re-elected.

Both sides downplayed the polls. "I've got a lot of work to do," Bush said at an Ohio ice cream shop.

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