PORTLAND, Ore. – On the last day of a two-week march from the Atlantic to the Pacific, tens of thousands of people stood under a hot sun on a bank of the Willamette River to hear John Kerry (search) explain why he should be elected president.
But for most of two weeks that the Democratic candidate was on the road, his campaign drew smaller crowds in smaller places, a lower cost way to fill late summer weeks that typically don't see much campaigning.
"He's trying to fill a period that normally is a dead time in a campaign," said Paul Beck, political science professor at Ohio State University (search). "It's something that's harder for an incumbent president to do."
Kerry put his family, his running mate and the occasional celebrity on a caravan of buses and trains that churned through thousands of miles and touched 12 battleground states. His chosen vice president, John Edwards, broke from the trail to cover even more territory.
Edwards was making a swing through Minnesota on Saturday, a state so closely divided that polls show the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates virtually tied, to call for more government enforcement against misleading drug advertisements.
"Americans deserve a health and economic policy that ensures cost containment and truth in advertising," Edwards said in prepared remarks.
The Bush-Cheney campaign said the voyage made little difference, pointing to a recent nationwide Gallup poll that shows likely voters choose Bush over Kerry by 50 percent to 47 percent.
The Democrats attracted a share of detractors, like the handful of high school students who waited for Kerry to arrive at a hotel in Eugene, Ore. They wore "Go Bush" shirts and waved waffles to display their belief that Kerry wavers in his convictions.
The Kerry campaign counts the tour a success because of the extensive coverage in local newspapers and television stations in states where the race between Bush and Kerry is virtually tied.
"It was one of our biggest priorities," said Kerry spokeswoman Allison Dobson.
The candidate spent time at virtually every stop talking to local reporters and taping interviews for local news. More than 50 reporters from the battleground states spent time on the campaign's buses and trains, a task made easier because the campaign stayed on the ground while traveling.
"I think he's trying to get as much free media coverage as he possibly can. It's a device for doing so," said David Rohde, a Michigan State (search) political science professor and expert on presidential politics. "He generates more local coverage than he probably would trying any other avenue."
The media coverage also gave Kerry visibility in the states at a time when his campaign has stopped running political advertisements. The Democrats want to hold onto as much of the $75 million in federal money that they can until the campaign gets into full swing this fall.
Analysts in the battleground states said its hard to measure whether the media exposure and personal contact through a whistlestop campaign tour swung voters to Kerry's side.
Floyd Ciruli, an independent political analyst, said Kerry's visits like the ones he made to La Junta and Trinidad could help him get support in Colorado, where many believe Bush has a natural advantage.
"I think presence helps. It could be as valuable as anything," Ciruli said. "You come out here, you advertise."