TOLEDO, Ohio – Presidential campaign bus tours are made for moments like this — an unemployed man hugging Democrat John Kerry (search) in a union hall. Alvie Hurst is the embodiment of Kerry's "Jobs First Express" tour — he was laid off his manufacturing job last fall, has been without health care since and says that electing the Democrat president would solve a lot of his problems.
"I just want to feel like there is some hope," he told Kerry during a town-hall meeting Wednesday. "And I feel like you have character. You've already proved that in your service and the way you speak so eloquently so I'm proud to stand here even though I'm in a hard way. ... I feel that you are the man that we need."
Kerry's four-day bus tour took him from the mines of West Virginia, to the steel communities of Pennsylvania and Ohio to the auto plants of Michigan. All four states have lost manufacturing jobs under President Bush, and all four are up for grabs in the presidential race. Hurst met Kerry on the last day and brought home his message — Kerry cares about helping those workers down on their luck.
As Kerry reached to embrace the man, the rest of the crowd applauded in agreement. Perhaps that's not surprising since, like nearly every stop along Kerry's bus tour, those gathered at United Auto Workers Local 12 were invited to meet the candidate and tell their stories.
Hurst said he was asked by the UAW to come and introduce Kerry. Someone else ended up with that job, but Hurst was the first to rise when Kerry invited the audience to speak.
Former President Clinton was a bus tour master. In 1992, he and running mate Al Gore drew curious bystanders along the roads and won over voters with unscheduled stops at small-town ice cream stands.
In 2000, George W. Bush drew large crowds on his pre-convention bus tour of battleground states, which ended with fireworks in Cincinnati. Bush used the road trip to generate the kind of excitement that his former Republican rival John McCain (search) achieved in the primaries, when he would charm reporters with long chats on his motorcoach.
Kerry's tour has lacked massive crowds and genuine impromptu stops. He visited a hot dog restaurant in Beaver, Pa., and pulled over to greet supporters on the side of the road at three different points along the way. Although those stops weren't listed on the public schedule, they had been planned by his staff with invited guests.
Most of the people who saw Kerry's tour roll by had been stopped by police who cleared the highways for his motorcade.
Journalists rode in two buses behind a bus for the senator and another bus for his staff. But the media was allowed to accompany Kerry when he met with workers — those making pots and pans at the All-Clad factory in Canonsburg, Pa., and mining coal in Glen Easton, W.Va.
Kerry was taken about 1,000 feet underground at the McElroy Mine and toured an area that is no longer active. A union official along for the tour said it was a "show mine" perfect for a tall visitor such as the 6-foot-4 Kerry. The senator would have had to stoop in a working mine — not a good pose for photos.
Not all those who showed up in Toledo were on the campaign message. One woman told Kerry that his Democratic primary rival John Edwards did a better job of addressing the problem of discrimination.
Another woman ranted about the war in Iraq, saying Bush is responsible for murdering women and babies in "an invasion for the oil and for Cheney for his business over there."
Several people in the room applauded her accusations. Kerry said he didn't agree that the war was for oil, but "a great misguided perception about what they could and could not achieve."
"I understand where you are coming from, ma'am. I really sympathize with the anger you feel," he said. "I'll tell you this — if you'll trust me with the presidency of the United States, I will pursue a policy that I know can get our troops down in number, reduced, out of Iraq. We can change the entire dynamics of what is happening there."
In the tradition of Clinton, Kerry told the woman he felt her pain.
Even if the crowds greeting Kerry along his route were small and carefully selected, they did not lack enthusiasm for his candidacy.
Many said they were lifelong Democrats who've never been more determined to get a presidential candidate elected. They cheered his call for health care for all Americans, more funding for education and more international cooperation in Iraq.
A crowd of about several dozen waited more than two hours outside the Toledo Public Library to hear Kerry talk for about 10 minutes. It was cold, but said one woman without a jacket, "It's worth the wait to see the next president of the United States!"