BOARDMAN, Ohio – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said he bagged a goose on his swing-state hunting trip Thursday, but his real target was the voters who may harbor doubts about him.
Kerry returned after a two-hour hunting trip wearing a camouflage jacket and carrying a 12-gauge shotgun, but someone else carried the bird he said he shot.
"I'm too lazy," Kerry joked. "I'm still giddy over the Red Sox. It was hard to focus."
The Massachusetts senator was referring to Boston's American League championship Wednesday night. He stayed up late cheering his hometown team onto victory, then got up for a 7 a.m. hunting trip at a supporter's produce farm.
Kerry adviser Mike McCurry (search) said it's important in the final days of the campaign that voters "get a better sense of John Kerry, the guy."
That means the Democratic senator is spending some of the dwindling time before Election Day hunting, talking about his faith and watching his beloved Red Sox.
It's all part of an effort to win over swing voters who may be open to voting against President Bush but aren't sure they feel any connection with Kerry.
While the Democrat campaigns as an all-American, his political opponents are working to leave voters with a different impression. Bush tells voters that Kerry is on the "left bank" of society, opposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Kerry does not support gay marriage but says the matter is for states to decide, and he favors civil unions for same-sex couples.
"We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society," Bush said Wednesday in Mason City, Iowa. "We stand for the Second Amendment, which protects every individual American's right to bear arms."
Campaigning in Ohio, Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday criticized Kerry's hunting excursion, saying, "The second amendment is more than just a photo opportunity."
The National Rifle Association said it bought a full-page ad in Thursday's Youngstown newspaper that says Kerry is posing as a sportsman while opposing gun-owners' rights. Kerry has denied NRA claims that he wants to "take away" guns, but he supported the ban on assault-type weapons and requiring background checks at gun shows
"If John Kerry thinks the Second Amendment is about photo ops, he's Daffy," says the ad the NRA said would run in The Vindicator. It features a large photo of Kerry with his finger on a shotgun trigger but looking in another direction.
Meanwhile, labor unions have been circulating fliers among workers that say Kerry won't take away guns. "He likes his own gun too much," says one of the fliers from the Building Trades Department of the AFL-CIO that features a picture of Kerry aiming a shotgun.
Kerry's aides said he spent about two hours hunting at a blind set up in a cornfield. More than two dozen journalists were invited to the farm outside of Youngstown to see Kerry emerge from the field, but none witnessed Kerry taking any shots.
Kerry was accompanied by Ohio Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland; Bob Bellino, a board member for the local Ducks Unlimited; and Neal Brady, assistant park manager of Indian Lake State Park in western Ohio. Each of his companions carried a dead goose on the way back, while Kerry walked beside them with his 12-gauge in one hand and the other free to pet a yellow Labrador named Woody.
Kerry said each of the four men shot a goose.
The last time Kerry went hunting was October 2003 in Iowa, a state where he was trailing in the Democratic primary but came from behind to win.
Hunting is of particular interest in several of the states that are still up for grabs in the presidential race. Kerry bought his hunting license last Saturday in one of the most critical — Ohio, which has 20 electoral votes.
Kerry bought the nonresident license and a special wetlands habitat stamp, which lets him hunt waterfowl.
Kerry plans to deliver a new speech on faith this weekend in Florida, McCurry said, focusing on an explanation of his values.
"The fact that Senator Kerry is a person of faith is something that might help voters who are undecided," McCurry said.
Kerry has been explaining it more in recent weeks as he campaigns in socially conservative areas like rural Ohio. At a town hall meeting Saturday in Xenia, he talked about taking his rosary into battle during the Vietnam War. "I will bring my faith with me to the White House and it will guide me," Kerry said.
The faith, the baseball, the hunting all come at the end of a long fight against Kerry's liberal elite image — an image promoted by his political enemies but perhaps aided by Kerry as well. The candidate disregarded concerns from other Democrats that he shouldn't go windsurfing or vacation at his homes on Nantucket and in Idaho's ski country.