Sen. John Kerry campaigned Sunday for votes in a Democratic stronghold of Ohio, where he is still struggling to break ahead despite massive job losses under President Bush.
Kerry has visited Ohio at least 18 times this year, more than any other state, and he returned to Mahoning County to stake claim to what should be solid support. He stumped with union workers and other supporters and later planned to worship at one of Cleveland’s largest predominantly black churches.
Democrat Al Gore won Mahoning County by 26 percentage points in 2000, but Kerry spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the Democrats here are “mavericks” who are open to crossing party lines.
Palmieri said the voters in the region are distraught about plant closings and fights with management over cuts to wages and benefits. “They don’t think the president can do anything about jobs,” she said.
Kerry tried to convince them otherwise with a day of feel-your-pain politicking that he started by delivering doughnuts to picketing workers at RMI Titanium in Niles.
“I’m sorry you’re going through it, but help is on the way,” Kerry said before asking the workers to help his campaign. “Give us a hand.”
Kerry asked several of the workers for their stories and expressed sympathy as they told of their struggles, during the yearlong lockout, to make ends meet after unemployment and health care benefits ran out.
“You try to survive,” said Donald Bertleff, 54, a nine-year veteran of RMI. “It’s rough.”
“Tell me about it,” Kerry said.
Later, Kerry stood in the middle of the gymnasium at nearby Austintown Fitch High School, working the crowd sitting on all four sides of him like a talk show host taping an episode on the economic struggles of the American family.
Appearing with Kerry was Ray Raschilla, one of the locked-out workers at RMI, who hasn’t been able to find another job in the area.
Raschilla said many people are trying to decide whether to pay for health care or their mortgage. He said the toughest thing for him was that he couldn’t afford to buy a homecoming dress for his teenage daughter.
Kerry embraced the man and told him the entire room felt chills listening to “the pain of a father trying to take care of his daughter and be a dad and feel good about it.”
The candidate’s voice rose to a yell as he turned to the politics of the situation. Republicans, he said, “are down there fighting with everything they’ve got to give the wealthiest people in the country a permanent tax break,” Kerry said. “Not in my America, ladies and gentlemen.
“We could get those employees back to work at RMI and we could get Ray covered and we could get a whole bunch of you with less expensive health care if on November 2nd you make me president,” Kerry said.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said all of Kerry’s promises will lead to higher taxes for all Americans. He suggested that’s why Kerry can’t pull ahead in Ohio: “People in states all across the country are rejecting it.”