YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At the dozen-seat Bean Counter Cafe, owner Jason Logero usually forbids any political talk to avoid the yelling. Then John Kerry (search) came to town.
Logero tuned in live television coverage of the Democratic presidential candidate.
"I thought I'd make an exception," said Logero, 30, watching the screen as cameras captured Kerry's tour bus roll into this economically ailing Democratic stronghold last Tuesday. "This is big news for Youngstown."
Media coverage in several Ohio stops along Kerry's "Jobs First Express" bus tour last week and the response from some voters were a politician's dream.
Television stations aired Kerry's speeches live. Radio stations previewed his appearances and dissected his economic proposals. The front pages of newspapers carried above-the-fold, four-column photos of Kerry and wrote thousands of words about his policies.
Jobs and the candidate's promise to create 10 million were the campaign's overriding message. It got just news treatment the campaign sought during his visit to Ohio.
Most Americans rank local news coverage as their leading source of campaign information, according to a study by the Pew Research Center (search).
"The local coverage tended to be pretty friendly," said David Porter, who teaches political science at Youngstown State University. "That's largely because of the jobs issue. It's a very sensitive issue here and that's what these people wanted to hear."
On a newsstand in front of Logero's counter, an edition of The New York Times carried the headline, "Kerry questions Bush attendance in Guard in 70's." Nearby, a copy of the Youngstown paper, The Vindicator, showed a grinning Kerry and proclaimed, "Kerry pays visit to the Valley."
President Bush gets wall-to-wall news coverage wherever he goes because he is the president. When the Republican visited Minnesota last week, newspapers and local news stations previewed his visit several days before he arrived. His speech was broadcast live on television. Bush's trip was the lead story on local television and radio newscasts.
The next day, the president's smiling face was on the cover of both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Both newspapers devoted several stories to the visit.
Kerry lacks the incumbent's luxury of guaranteed coverage. Other local events sometimes trump a challenger's appearance as well.
During Kerry's stop in Cleveland, the top news story on most stations was snow in April and crime. Coverage of Kerry was pushed to the middle of newscasts.
That was about the only blip in local coverage of Kerry's jobs tour, which took him to Youngstown, Cleveland and Toledo. The three Rust Belt cities have strong union ties and high losses of manufacturing jobs, which makes them friendly terrain for a Democrat.
Ohio has 20 electoral votes. Polls show Bush and Kerry in a close race. Bush won the state by less than 4 percentage points in 2000 over Democrat Al Gore.
When Kerry is in a state, Bush's regional media machine is in full gear. Last week, that meant issuing a statement from 10 mayors from northeast Ohio calling Kerry's policies "devastating to Ohio jobs" and claiming that his support for anti-coal legislation would cost 37,000 jobs.
Hours before Kerry's first Ohio appearance, his surrogates made the rounds on talk radio stations during morning drive time.
"We've had an administration that exports jobs. We need an administration that imports jobs, and that's what John Kerry's going to do," said Jim Ruvolo, Kerry's Ohio campaign chairman, on Cleveland's WTAM-1100.
In Toledo and Youngstown, television stations covered Kerry's event live. Youngstown's WFMJ, an NBC affiliate, skipped regular programming all morning to host a panel of political analysts. In Cleveland, news helicopters followed Kerry's motorcade.
Outside of Cleveland's Slovenian National Home, Kristy Steeves of Fox's WJW affiliate folded several pieces of Kerry's economic platform into her news report, saying that Kerry promoted his plan "to create 10 million new jobs" and "promised to cut the deficit in half." The station then cut to Kerry claiming, "We're going to roll back his tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."
Campaign commercials popped up on television, primarily during newscasts. In a single day, Bush campaign ads ran nearly every half-hour and were critical of Kerry's stand on taxes and national security.
Kerry commercials also appeared repeatedly, as did an ad by the liberal Media Fund criticizing Bush on prescription drug legislation.
A day after Kerry's events, The Blade in Toledo showed the Democrat reaching into a crowd, grasping several hands at once. The headline: "Kerry vows a `stronger economy, stronger America' in Toledo visit."
The Beacon Journal in Akron said "N.E. Ohio shines on Kerry" and silhouetted Kerry before a red, white and blue sign about jobs. From The Columbus Dispatch: "Rust Belt embraces Kerry's message" with a photo of him, shaking hands with a voter.
At the Bean Counter Cafe, Kerry was talking on the television about jobs as the deli slowly filled with construction workers, lawyers and businessmen on their lunch break.
Instead of gossiping while hunched over their sandwiches, the customers' heads were turned toward the set and Kerry. Then the chatter began.
Jon Ardus, 25, a Republican in a community dominated by Democrats, said he did not believe Kerry could do anything to bring jobs back to the once-booming steel city.
"What's the No. 1 rule here?" Logero yelled to his staff.
"No politics!" they answered in chorus.
But on this day, the rule was largely ignored.