APPLETON, Wis. – John Nusbaum, retired after 30 years in the cheese business, voted three times to put a man named Bush in the White House. This year, he's voting for John Kerry (search).
"I just won't do it again," Nusbaum said. "What turned the tide for me was when I read the Medicare bill."
Nusbaum's upset that Republicans prohibited the government from negotiating bulk discounts when purchasing prescription drugs for the new Medicare (search) prescription drug benefit. He's also a decorated Vietnam veteran and an organizer of Republicans for Kerry (search).
It's voters like Nusbaum, a 60-year-old resident of De Pere, Wis., that the Democratic candidate wants to unearth by touring traditional GOP counties in Wisconsin and Ohio, two states virtually deadlocked in the race for the presidency.
"We're obviously going to places where we think there's a concentration of swing voters," said Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry.
Kerry campaigned in Wisconsin's Sheboygan and Outagamie counties on Friday. President Bush won the first by 11 percentage points and the second by 9 percentage points in 2000, even as Democrat Al Gore eked out a victory statewide.
The Massachusetts senator was traveling through even more staunchly Republican territory in Ohio on Saturday — first Greene County, where Bush won by 20 percentage points, and then Pike County, where Bush edged Gore by 4 percentage points.
Kerry's pitch included a mix of appeals for bipartisanship and promises to take on local issues. In an appeal to voters' stomachs in Sheboygan, Wis., he said, "Some brats, some cheese, a few beers, and then I can go out and talk about health care."
In a new angle in the argument over health care, the Kerry campaign was preparing a television ad criticizing Bush for ignoring the danger posed by a shortage of flu vaccine. "There's not even enough for veterans and pregnant women," the ad says. "It's a mess George Bush created."
Kerry vowed to do better than Bush by looking out for dairy interests in a state known for its cheese.
"When I'm president of the United States, I give you my word today, we're going to reauthorize and extend the milk (subsidy) program to help dairy farmers," he said.
As a senator, Kerry supported a Northeast dairy compact that expired in 2001 and which Midwestern farmers blamed for depressing prices in their region. He has said he wanted to help Massachusetts dairymen but that as president he would represent all farmers.
On Friday, he also hit themes central to the GOP message by touting votes for tax cuts and making promises never to let other countries influence his decisions about national security.
"This isn't about politics and party," Kerry said. "It's not about Republican and Democrat."
Off stage, he dressed a bratwurst in pickles, onions, mustard and Heinz ketchup and hoisted it to a cheering crowd.
Charles Franklin, a political scientist and pollster at the University of Wisconsin, said 5 percent to 8 percent of the state's voters are undecided and could be swayed by Kerry's appeals in these closing days of the campaign.
"I think we've moved from seeing a pretty clear Bush lead in the state to one that looks absolutely tied," Franklin said. "To that extent, going into Republican territory to bring out what Democratic vote is there is not a bad idea."
Any shift between now and Election Day will be pretty small, he cautioned.
Kerry's also well served trying to pick up whatever Democratic votes he can in Ohio, said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics.
"It's about as Republican as they get, but there are disaffected people there," Green said. "If Kerry can scare up a handful of votes there, that could be the difference."
His travels also cheer Wisconsin Democrats, the experts said.
Amy Jozwiack, a recently elected Appleton alderwoman, said she has seen very few Democratic events since she moved to town that draw the thousands of people that Kerry's late-night rally Friday attracted.
"In 11 years, there's one. It's really exciting," she said.