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Battleground States

All Politics Is as Local as Ever, And So Are Issues

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2004; Page A06

This year's presidential race has given fresh meaning to the old adage that all politics is local.

Nationally, the election is about Iraq, the economy and terrorism. But in most of the 15 to 20 states where the election's outcome will be determined, local issues that are obscure to the rest of the country could prove decisive.

President Bush arrives Thursday at a rally in Albuquerque, where he touted the benefits to New Mexico of his Healthy Forests Restoration Act. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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Consider both campaigns' activities in the past few weeks:

In Albuquerque on Thursday, Bush played forest ranger when he said: "Our Healthy Forests Restoration Act is good law for New Mexico. . . . The Cibola National Forest will benefit from this important legislation."

Earlier, in Oregon, Bush sounded like a public works commissioner when he said he was asking for $15 million to deepen 104 miles of Oregon's Columbia River by three feet. "We're committed to keeping the Columbia River open for navigation and trade," he said.

Around that time, Democratic nominee John F. Kerry was in Las Vegas, declaring his determination to keep a Nevada mountain from becoming a radioactive storage site. "When John Kerry is president, there's going to be no nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, period," the Massachusetts senator said.

And Kerry's number two, John Edwards, was busy telling reporters that he was opposed to drilling for oil in part of New Mexico. "I'm against drilling on Otero Mesa," he said.

Democrats and Republicans each insist that local issues on balance favor their candidate.

"Bush's domestic policies have had their most devastating effects at the state and local levels," said Jim Jordan, the former Kerry campaign manager who works for an anti-Bush group. "States are broke, schools are closing, pollution is spreading, and these local budgets and issues and controversies are serving to focus voters' anger at this administration."

Jennifer Millerwise, who coordinates regional media operations for the Bush campaign, said: "John Kerry's plans for local communities are as out of touch as his national record. . . . John Kerry opposed the Healthy Forests Act, a plan written by Westerners to protect their forests. Wisconsin dairy farmers can't trust him after his consistent support of a plan to put them at a competitive disadvantage, and his hostility towards coal mining would kill West Virginia jobs."

The Bush campaign's strongest local issue may be in Michigan, where Kerry's preference for higher fuel economy standards is deeply unpopular with the state's large automotive industry. (The issue also works against Kerry, to a lesser extent, in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.) Republicans point to Kerry's hope of raising the standard to 36 miles per gallon, a 50 percent increase, by 2015 -- a change the industry says would cost many Michigan jobs.

In Michigan, the Bush campaign is also trying to exploit a comment by Kerry that the issue of diverting Great Lakes water in the state for municipal use elsewhere would require a "delicate balancing act." Bush unequivocally opposes the diversions, which reduce the water level in lakes bordering Michigan and other swing states: Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"My position is clear," Bush said recently in Traverse City, Mich. "We're never going to allow diversion of Great Lakes water."

Democrats, in turn, probably have their strongest local issue in Nevada, where opposition to burying nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain could cause the otherwise Republican state to go to Kerry. The Democratic nominee vigorously opposes using Yucca for the radioactive waste, and Bush has been open to such use. "If the presidential race for Nevada's five electoral votes comes down to Yucca Mountain, which it should, Sen. John Kerry already has won the race," columnist Jeff German wrote in the Las Vegas Sun on Aug. 13.

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