MAUMEE, Ohio – President Bush (search) flipped a few pancakes at a campaign rally here Tuesday, then grilled his Democratic opponent for suggesting that he, not the president, would win a popularity contest abroad.
Earlier in this campaign, Democrat John Kerry (search) suggested that opposition to Bush is so widespread in foreign capitals that a variety of politicians were rooting for the president to lose. Republicans have demanded that Kerry name the leaders supposedly supporting him.
"I've got a hunch this whole thing might be a case of mistaken identity," Bush told supporters at a pancake breakfast at a recreation center just outside Toledo. "Whoever these mystery men are, they're not going to be deciding this election. The American people will be deciding this election."
As evidence of the hard-scrabble battle for Ohio, Kerry's campaign quickly shot back. "If President Bush wants to talk about foreign policy, he should explain what he's doing to restore America's lost credibility in the world and what his plan is for keeping U.S. troops safe from being shot at in Iraq (search)," the campaign said. "His ridiculous attacks wont help the 8.3 million people who are out of work find jobs, and they don't explain why he has no policy for stabilizing Iraq."
Bush narrowly won Ohio in 2000, and he desperately wants to win the state's 20 electoral votes this November. No Republican has ever won the White House without capturing Ohio.
But Bush has a hard sell in Ohio as he tries to convince voters, especially blue-collar ones facing a bleak job market, that he's the man to guide the U.S. economy for another four years.
As he did in Michigan on Monday, the first leg of a two-day, nearly 300-mile campaign bus tour, Bush acknowledged the despair faced by unemployed workers in Ohio and assured them that the U.S. economy is on an upswing.
"There are people in parts of Ohio who haven't felt the recovery yet," Bush said at a campaign event in Dayton, Ohio. "We're getting better. ... I'm running because I want to make sure the pro-growth agenda doesn't get disrupted."
Bush noted that the Commerce Department (search) reported Tuesday that U.S. factories saw orders jump in March by the largest amount in more than a year and a half.
Still, Ohio's unemployment rate has risen from 3.9 percent to 5.7 percent since Bush took office. More than 222,000 jobs have been lost in the state where the manufacturing sector is shrinking.
"Manufacturing jobs continue to be lost," said Dan Trevas, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party.
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, head of the Republican Governors Association (search), is cutting the state budget because he doesn't anticipate growth in the state's income tax, Trevas said. "If he has so much confidence in Bush's economic policies, how come he's cutting the budget?" Trevas asked.
Not all voters, though, think the economy is the top issue in Ohio.
"I think getting the promises met for the war in Iraq is No. 1," said Tony Allion, a county engineer from Bloomdale, Ohio, who drove an hour to attend a pancake breakfast and rally Tuesday morning at a recreation center here.
Tiffany Adamski, a community college professor from nearby Toledo, said Bush will win Ohio if he remains resolute. "Strong stances on the issues — he needs to stick with them," Adamski said. "The opposition turns around and changes again."
Tuesday's bus tour, about 60 miles through western Ohio, actually includes two airplane flights — one from Detroit to Toledo and another from Toledo to Dayton. His first two stops — Maumee and Dayton — are in counties Al Gore won in 2000. The last two stops — Lebanon and Cincinnati — are in counties that Bush won easily.
Exchanging Air Force One (search) for an eight-wheeler emblazoned with the slogan "Yes, America can," is one way to get his face before the voters. Supporters greeted him with campaign signs and stickers on their lapels that said "Viva Bush," but outside the recreation center, a demonstrator waved a sign that read "End the occupation."
Another aim of the bus trip is to energize the Republican base and rev up a network of volunteers charged with getting out the vote in November.
The campaign has had staff in Ohio since Jan. 1. So far, it has recruited 24,000 volunteers and has held 33 training sessions for 3,000 of them, according to Scott Stanzel, a campaign spokesman. Of the 5,200 "parties for the president" held across the nation last Thursday to bolster support, 453 were held in Ohio — the largest number in any state, he said.