In Mich., Bush Reaches Out to Rural Voters
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2004; Page A08
MARQUETTE, Mich., July 13 -- The yoopers are whooping.
About 11,000 residents of Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- "yoopers," in the local parlance -- have piled into the sports arena here, no small feat in a town of 20,000. As President Bush takes the stage Tuesday, they cheer, stomp, whistle and wave as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime event -- and it is, considering that the last American president to visit this remote outpost was William Howard Taft in 1911.
"In my mind, this is the biggest event ever, hands down," said Dennis Bell, who owns a sawmill business here and waited 2 1/2 hours for a ticket to Bush's speech. Others drove for hours and hundreds of miles for a glimpse of the president. The town declared a "President's Day" in anticipation of Bush's visit.
One might wonder why Bush would take the time to visit this electoral end of the earth, a place where there are two deer for every man, woman and child, a vast land with a third of Michigan's acreage but only 3 percent of its population. But such is the Bush-Cheney campaign's determination not to cede the rural vote to Democrat John F. Kerry, whose campaign believes it can appeal to rural voters with the addition of homespun vice presidential choice Sen. John Edwards (N.C.).
"By the way of looking at things, the U.P. is Bush-Cheney country," Bush said to howls of approval as he began a retooled stump speech devoted to deriding Kerry as an unprincipled liberal out of step with the American heartland. Referring to the Massachusetts senator's description of Hollywood entertainers who campaigned for him as "the heart and soul of America," Bush retorted: "I believe the heart and soul of America is found in places right here in Marquette, Michigan."
The choice of Marquette is interesting for Bush because, unlike most rural parts of the country, it is a Democratic area that supported Al Gore in 2000. Bush's next stop, Duluth, Minn., (pop. 87,000) is another heavily Democratic town along Lake Superior whose last presidential visit was by Bill Clinton in 1994. Bush's stops on his bus tour Wednesday are also Democratic strongholds.
The emphasis on mining and manufacturing gives these areas a blue-collar feel with an affinity for Democrats' economic policies, but the Bush campaign calculates that the president can win the support of onetime "Reagan Democrats" with an appeal to conservative social values. "It is important in these districts to articulate that [Kerry] is out of step on the values," said Bush campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish.
Bush emphasized conservative social issues such as his judicial nominees, his support for school standards and his opposition to abortion. Excoriating Kerry for voting against a spending package for Iraq after voting to authorize force there, Bush said: "Yesterday, my opponent said he is proud that he and his running mate voted against funding the troops. . . . He's entitled to his view. But members of Congress should not vote to send troops into battle, and then vote against funding them, and then brag about it."
The Kerry campaign sought to emphasize economic issues, which are more likely to favor Democrats in the Midwest. "John Kerry wants to make health care affordable, create good-paying jobs and strengthen our military so that we are able to win the war on terror," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer. "If the president thinks that's out of step with Main Street, he's even more out of touch than he appears." The anti-Bush group America Coming Together distributed statistics on the loss of mining jobs under Bush.
Whether the people here ultimately back Bush on values or Kerry on the economy, they were enormously grateful on Tuesday for the presidential attention. The local paper, the Mining Journal, called Bush's visit "an incredible event that will rank high among our area's historical highlights." Jeff Jacobs, a pediatrician who lives 100 miles from here in a town of 700, made the two-hour drive. "It's been nonstop," he said of the Bush mania. "People are taking off from work. There were buses from the Copper County Mall. I can't think of anything so global in the U.P."
Bush's motorcade route here was lined by wildflowers rather than people. Among the snowmobile-crossing signs, homemade messages proclaimed, "Welcome President Bush/Hot Pastries," and "Welcome President Bush/Join us for an all you can eat fish fry." After passing Cliff's Muffler Shop and an out-of-commission iron ore dock that once loaded barges, Bush arrived for his speech and was introduced by Detroit Lions Coach Steve Mariucci, a local hero, who said, "Welcome to God's Country."
Bush's midwestern swing follows a similar one last week by Kerry. Kerry adviser Tad Devine has said Edwards, because he grew up poor in a small southern town, could help the Democratic ticket appeal to "small rural communities" that Republicans take for granted.
But in the score of states expected to be close, including Michigan and Minnesota, few voters of any type will be taken for granted by either party. The Bush campaign noted with some pride that Bush came here despite losing the county around Marquette to Gore 53 percent to 43 percent; Bush lost the county around Duluth by an even more lopsided 60 to 33 percent. Devenish said: "We're going to go to these states that we barely lost and fight for every vote."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
A July 14 article about President Bush's trip through Michigan's Upper Peninsula incorrectly reported the message on a supporter's sign. The sign welcomed Bush and offered "hot pasties," a meat-and-potato pie that is popular in the region.