updated 9/27/2004 3:01:24 PM ET 2004-09-27T19:01:24

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry told voters in America’s Dairyland on Monday that President Bush had a secret plan that would hurt milk producers after the election.

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Kerry tried to convince voters in this rural community, where he is practicing for Thursday’s debate, that he would look out for dairy farms here even though he hadn’t always in the past.

In the 1990s, Kerry supported the Northeast Dairy Compact, a regional pricing program that propped up prices for Northeastern dairy farmers over objections from their Midwestern counterparts.

“We’ve had a difference between the Midwest and the Northeast,” Kerry said. “I’m going to be very  with you about it.

“As a senator representing Massachusetts, I fought for the dairy compact and fought to have our dairy farmers get help,” the four-term lawmaker said. “I’m running for president of the United States now and I intend to represent all the farmers of America.”

Kerry said Bush is opposing an effort to extend the Milk Income Loss Contract that helps dairy farmers when milk prices drop and is set to expire in October 2005. He said the Bush administration would wait until after the election to act so voters in swing dairy states wouldn’t turn against him.

The plan was described in an Agricultural Department briefing paper that was reported in National Journal’s “CongressDaily” on Sept. 7. The Bush campaign issued a statement that said accounts of White House opposition to the milk program are false.

Kerry said if he is elected president, he will ensure the program is extended. The Bush campaign said Kerry’s position is “political opportunism” and an attempt to change the subject from his support for the Northeast Dairy Compact.

Kerry told the voters that as a young boy he would fill milk bottles at his uncle’s dairy farm.

“I have a great sense of the land,” Kerry said. “I really do. I’m tired of small family farmers getting squeezed.”

The town hall meeting at Spring Green Junior High School is Kerry’s only scheduled public event during four days of debate preparations at the House on the Rock Resort. The resort gives Kerry plenty of seclusion to get ready for his first face-off with Bush and also a chance to boost his profile in a state where Bush holds a slight advantage in recent polls and that Democrat Al Gore won by some 6,000 votes in 2000.

Since then, Kerry said, Bush has created only 200 jobs in a state that has lost 67,000 manufacturing jobs on his watch.

“Are you telling me seriously that people in Wisconsin are going to return to the presidency a man who promised jobs and lost them?” Kerry asked. “I think the good commonsense, fiscally responsible, conservative citizens of Wisconsin know that it’s our responsibility to pay our bills and not dump them on our kids and on future generations.”

Kerry told the town hall that voters shouldn’t be wary of changing horses midstream when the horse is drowning. Kerry also poked fun at reports that the Bush campaign insisted that the debate podiums be set relatively far apart so Kerry’s five-inch height advantage won’t be so apparent.

“May I also suggest that we need a taller horse?” he said. “You can get through deeper waters that way.”


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