Bush takes Midwest campaign swing into Ohio

President attacks Kerry on issues, questioning if his values are `rock solid'

May 05, 2004|By Rick Pearson | Rick Pearson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

DAYTON, Ohio - President Bush moved swiftly into full campaign mode yesterday on the second day of a swing through the Midwest by bus and plane, going so far as to question whether his presumptive Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, was "rock solid" in his values.

In a full day of stops across the key electoral state of Ohio, Bush stepped up his attacks on Kerry and he asked supporters to talk to friends in neighborhoods and churches and to reach out across party lines to solicit backing for his re-election.

A day after Michigan

A day after courting Republican voters in Michigan, which Bush lost four years ago, the president found a supportive GOP infrastructure in Ohio, which he won by more than 160,000 votes in 2000.

Moreover, Ohio has become a rare Republican political outpost among Midwest states that have seen their leadership shift to the Democratic column in recent years.

"We're in the epicenter of the presidential campaign," Ohio Gov. Bob Taft told hundreds of people in Maumee, outside Toledo, in Lucas County.

Although Bush lost the county by 35,000 votes in his 2000 race against Al Gore, Taft and local officials declared a Republican comeback there and held out the belief that Bush would recapture the state's 20 electoral votes despite lingering economic problems and joblessness.

"Our message to John Kerry is this: `Don't even come to Ohio. You're wasting your time,'" Taft said as the Republican crowd lined up for a pancake breakfast while awaiting the president.

When Bush arrived, he tossed aside his suit coat, grabbed a spatula and headed to the pancake-filled griddle. But the concept of flipping was one that the president reserved for describing Kerry.

Rally in Dayton

Speaking at a rally in Dayton, Bush said it was important for the person holding the presidency to "know who you are and where you're going" to do the job correctly.

"You can't kind of fumble around with your value system on the people's time. You've got to be rock solid in what you believe," Bush said. "I'm anxious for [the campaign] to get started. ... But I'm not going to change. I'm not going to change my principles. I'm not going to change my value system in order to win the vote."

The president warned that Kerry has overpromised on spending for new programs that cannot be paid by the Democrat's vow to boost taxes on the wealthy.

"You can't tax the rich enough to pay for all his promises, so guess who's going to pay?" Bush asked. "You're going to pay. And we're not going to let him do that, though."

He also chided his Democratic rival's statements that some foreign leaders, whom Kerry has declined to identify, back Kerry's candidacy.

Kerry aides have repeatedly questioned the value of Bush's attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee, saying the president uses them to sidestep answering criticism of his record in office.

Later yesterday, before several thousand people attending a rally in Cincinnati, Bush used an even harsher tone toward Kerry and opposition Democrats.

His voice becoming hoarse at times, Bush accused them of failing to offer a legitimate alternative to resolving the Iraq issue or improving the economy. But as he prepared to return to Washington for two days before going back out to campaign in Iowa and Wisconsin on Friday, the president offered a strange ad-lib to his speech. "I'm here to fertilize the grass roots today," he said. "I'm here to ask you to grow."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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