Presidential candidates scour Rust Belt in search of votes

Saturday, July 31st 2004, 11:37 am
By: News On 6

CANTON, Ohio (AP) _ President Bush, defending his record on the economy, told supporters Saturday in an Ohio town where job losses are a major issue that he has a four-year plan for peace and prosperity.

``After four more years, the American economy will continue to be the strongest in the world,'' Bush said as his Democratic rival, John Kerry, campaigned in neighboring Pennsylvania.

Bush said factors beyond his control, such as the Sept. 11 attacks and corporate scandals, were to blame for the country's economic problems over the past four years. He also said the economy was weakening when he took office in January 2001.

Kerry has highlighted the economic woes in Ohio and especially Canton, citing a steelworker whose job was shifted overseas and a company that plans to close three bearings plants in the city.

Both candidates were making their way through Ohio and Pennsylvania by bus on Saturday, seeking support in two important states where the race is tight.

Bush said he favored fair and reasonable government regulation, less reliance on foreign energy, fewer frivolous lawsuits that hurt businesses, and low taxes.

``That's how you keep jobs at home,'' the president said.

On the way to Canton, Bush stopped in Akron to pick up about 10 workers at the Timken Co. bearings plants cited by Kerry. Some 1,300 Timken employees are scheduled to lose their jobs.

In May, Kerry urged Bush to intervene, and a month later the Massachusetts senator visited the plants.

Canton is in Stark County, an area that Ohio political analysts say is a bellwether for the rest of the state in presidential elections. Bush won Ohio in 2000 against Democrat Al Gore, and narrowly took Stark County with less than 50 percent of the vote. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.

Unemployment in Stark County was 6.4 percent in June, compared with 5.9 percent in May but down from 7.3 percent in June 2003.

Protesters mixed with Bush supporters along the bus route. One boy held up a sign that said, ``Bush's last tour.''

Earlier Saturday, the Bush caravan stopped in Berea for a visited the NFL's Cleveland Browns at their training camp. He was shown around by coach Butch Davis and quarterback Jeff Garcia.

Speaking about offensive tackle Ryan Tucker, Bush cracked: ``He went to the same high school as my wife, but he's not as good-looking.'' Both Laura Bush and Tucker went to Robert E. Lee High School in Midland, Texas. Tucker played football at Texas Christian University.

As he prepared to leave, Bush told the squad: ``Go get 'em.''

From Canton, Bush planned to head south to Cambridge before wrapping up two days of campaigning with a rally in Pittsburgh, just hours after Kerry speaks in a nearby suburb.

Kerry and running mate John Edwards were on the second day of a two-week coast-to-coast trip that will take them through 21 states.

In remarks prepared for a rally Saturday in Greensburg, Pa., Kerry struck a familiar theme from his convention speech earlier in the week: America can do better.

``We are less than 100 days away from the election,'' Kerry said. ``We all know elections are about choices and choices are about values. In the end, it's not just policies and programs that matter. The president behind the desk must be guided by principle.''