MASSILLON, Ohio – Residents of this northeast Ohio town have some advice for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) when he visits Friday: don't use their hard luck for political gain.
Local governments are struggling with budget deficits and, in the past month alone, two major area employers have announced plans to cut thousands of manufacturing jobs in a state already reeling from such losses.
"The job losses could hurt Bush, but Kerry's got to be careful not to be too political. That could rub people the wrong way," said Robert Chaney, who is retired from his job at Timken Co., a bearings maker.
One of Kerry's central campaign issues remains the economy and job losses under President Bush, despite signs of an economic rebound and the creation of nearly 1 million new jobs this year.
On the stump, Kerry often derides an administration that he says has the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression. Bush says the economy is "strong and getting stronger," partly because of his tax cuts.
Kerry is scheduled to hold a town hall-style meeting in Massillon with workers affected by job losses, and promote his plan to revitalize the manufacturing sector. A blue-collar town about 50 miles south of Cleveland, Massillon's once-booming manufacturing plants are now hidden by new strip malls and overgrown weeds.
"Jobs is our main issue here. What are kids out of high school going to do?" said Larry Rashid, a bartender who worked at the nearby Newell Rubbermaid factory before he was laid off a decade ago.
Added John Poulelis, a retired Republic Steel worker: "Now it's whatever job you can get. Just go down the street and look — McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell. That's the kind of job you can get around here."
Timken and vacuum maker Hoover Co. recently announced they were eliminating a combined 2,000 jobs.
Jennifer Palmieri, spokeswoman for Kerry's campaign in Ohio, said the senator is sensitive to people's pain and will offer specific proposals to save jobs, including eliminating tax breaks for companies that move work abroad.
"We don't want to make them political pawns. These are people's lives that we're talking about," she said.
Bush campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said the president believes the economy is growing in Ohio and that his tax cuts will help spawn new jobs in Stark County, where Massillon is located.
"John Kerry's negativity and his pessimism on the issue of the economy and how we make it grow in Ohio unfortunately doesn't help these people," Madden said.
Ohio is one of more than a dozen states being targeted by Bush and Kerry as crucial to the election outcome Nov. 2.
Bush won Ohio over Democrat Al Gore by 3 percentage points in 2000, and the most recent state poll had Bush slightly ahead of Kerry among registered voters. No Republican has been elected president without winning Ohio.
Mayor Francis Cicchinelli Jr., a Democrat who supports Kerry, said the city's $600,000 budget deficit is directly tied to job losses. He said he doesn't mind the campaigning in his town. Bush visited Timken Co. last year.
"The economy is going to be one of the main issues, so I don't think it's taking advantage of people at all," Cicchinelli said. "It's just a reality."