U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Kerry waves from plane
Jim Young  /  REUTERS
Kerry boards his plane in Nantucket, Mass., Tuesday.
updated 8/31/2004 11:55:41 PM ET 2004-09-01T03:55:41

Hours after George Bush is to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for re-election in New York on Thursday night, Democrat John Kerry plans to respond at Ground Zero of the presidential campaign — Ohio.

Kerry is kicking off the general election in the battleground state that George Bush won in the last race, as has every other Republican who’s ever been elected president.

Kerry plans a rally in Springfield, Ohio, just before midnight Thursday evening with his running mate John Edwards and their wives. Then the Democratic nominee plans a two-day bus tour to the Ohio cities of Newark, Akron and Steubenville.

Kerry is dispatching his three partners to Midwest battlegrounds that Democrat Al Gore won narrowly in 2000 — Teresa Heinz Kerry to Iowa, John Edwards to Wisconsin and Elizabeth Edwards to Michigan.

The tours come after Kerry kept a low profile at his family’s Nantucket home during most of the Republican National Convention, with one notable exception. Kerry plans interrupt his getaway Wednesday to speak to the American Legion in Nashville, Tenn.

The Kerrys and Edwardses also had bus tours coming out of the Democratic National Convention five weeks ago, and the trip resulted in positive coverage in the local newspapers and television that reach swing voters.

The four states at the start of the upcoming trip have a combined 54 electoral votes and are among the most frequently visited by the presidential campaigns. The biggest target of the four has been Ohio, which has 20 electoral votes and has been visited 13 times by Kerry so far this year.

Although Bush won the state by four percentage points in 2000, he is vulnerable because the state has lost more than 200,000 jobs since he took office.

Kerry-Edwards campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said the message to voters in the general election kickoff will be that there is a fundamental choice in November — “four more years of policies that benefit the few and catastrophic successes that blame the military for administration miscalculations, or the Kerry-Edwards plan to build an economy that strengthens and expands the middle class.”

Kerry’s campaign plans to return to significant advertising in the coming days after a monthlong break. Kerry was mostly dark during August, except for a few small ad buys in six states to respond to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that criticized his military record.

Kerry was saving his money to pay for the ads that will fuel his final two-month push. However, the Democratic National Committee’s independent expenditure office, which can’t legally coordinate with Kerry, filled in for him in August, spending some $37 million on ads promoting him and criticizing Bush.

Kerry will spend Sunday at his family home in Pennsylvania, then return to the campaign trail on Labor Day for a series of “front porch” visits. Once again, Kerry, Edwards and their wives will spread out to different swing states, this time in front of homes talking to neighborhood voters.

Kerry spokeswoman Allison Dobson said a high-profile representative of the Kerry campaign will hold one of the visits in every battleground state to promote his agenda. The campaign will pass out copies of the Kerry-Edwards book, “Our Plan for America,” which also goes on sale next week to the public for $12.95.

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