FORT MYERS, Fla. – Presidential candidate John Kerry (search) may have won a few votes during his tour of neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Charley (search), but he said — as any politician must — that strengthening support in a battleground state was not the reason for his visit.
Asked Friday if he was there to see or be seen, Kerry replied, "I'm here to see."
"How upset they are is really very, very moving and the way people have come together says the best about America," Kerry said, walking through the Pine Acres neighborhood of nearby Cleveland, Fla. "It makes it personal. I think it's important to make it personal."
Kerry waited a week before visiting southwest Florida and kept his visit short, ending it an hour earlier than expected. While a group of photographers and reporters traveled with him, there weren't any speeches. Kerry spent most of his time talking to residents, offering hugs of condolence and assistance to one man whose home was insured.
The visit worked its magic on Debra Emerson, who met Kerry in Punta Gorda (search), north of Fort Myers, one of the areas most damaged by last Friday's winds.
"That's our next president, baby," Emerson told her son, Willie, who had his football signed by Kerry, according to a pool report shared among reporters.
In Cleveland, however, John Sullivan was unswayed by Kerry's presence on his doorstep. "It's politics," Sullivan said.
Until the hurricane hit, politics was the main story in Florida, which decided the 2000 election by a margin of 537 votes. Both Kerry and President Bush, who visited the state two days after Charley struck, have been working feverishly to claim the state this November.
Friday's visit was Kerry's eighth to Florida this year, while Bush has made more than 20 appearances. With 27 electoral votes, Florida is the fourth-biggest state on the way to the 270 votes needed to win the White House.
From Florida, Kerry traveled to Pittsburgh to attend a closed luncheon Saturday with Democratic National Committee trustees before going to New York to raise money at a series of events in the fashionable Hamptons communities on Long Island.
Jimmy Buffet will be the featured entertainment at a reception for 600 at the East Hampton home of venture capitalist Alan Patricof and his wife Susan. Tickets start at $1,000 a head and go up from there.
The festivities then move to "Sex and the City" producer Darren Star's home in East Hampton for a $25,000-a-plate dinner. There also will be a separate dinner gathering for a younger, more budget-conscious crowd at the restaurant Jean-Luc East, where tickets are selling for $2,500 a person.
Kerry will return to his Boston home Sunday before traveling to New York City and Philadelphia on Tuesday.