Clad in blue Levi's jeans and scuff-free Timberland work boots, Sen. John F. Kerry spent Saturday morning on a sprawling dairy farm, telling about 150 supporters he identified with their way of life and would "fight for small farmers once and for all."
In a wide-ranging discussion of agriculture policy, after which he took questions, the Massachusetts Democrat -- who once supported the Northeast Dairy Compact, a controversial program of price supports for farmers in that region -- also assured his audience that as president, his approach would be more even-handed.
"I'm not running to be president of New England or president of Massachusetts; I'm running to be the president of America," he said.
A torrential downpour made for an inauspicious start to the second day of Kerry's 546-mile bus trip through rural corners of three battleground states -- Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa -- a tour marked by several campaign stops short on substance but replete with vivid images of down-home Americana.
Hoping to broaden his appeal to small-town America, where President Bush received nearly 60 percent of the votes cast in 2000, Kerry rolled out a rural agenda that consisted mostly of his standard platform of education and health care plans.
Friday night on a farm in Bloomer, Wis., (pop. 3,364) surrounded by a green sea of knee-high rows of corn, Kerry rolled up his sleeves and delivered a 35-minute stump speech to 5,000 flag-waving supporters.
At sunset, he accompanied a harmonica-playing congressman and the percussive barrage of fireworks, strumming his guitar onstage to the folk tune "This Land is Your Land." He stayed for more than an hour after the event, signing autographs and shaking hands, which some in attendance said they appreciated. The only visible dissent was a Bush sign placed in a field on the horizon.
"He's here, he's in my home town, my jurisdiction, and that means something," said Dick Haley, 47, a systems manager at a power plant who with his wife, Sara, came to see Kerry.
On Saturday Kerry, who spent much of his childhood abroad and whose father was a foreign service officer, stressed he could relate to the mindset of the heartland. "In fact, I lived on a farm when I was a young kid," he told the group gathered in a machine shed on the Dejno Acres farm, a 300-cow operation in Independence. "My parents, when we lived in Massachusetts, we lived on a farm and I learned my first cuss word sitting on a tractor with the guy who was driving it."
He spoke passionately about days spent plowing the fields of his aunt and uncle's dairy farm. Spokesman Stephanie Cutter said Kerry's relatives, the Winthrops, once owned a dairy farm in Ipswich, Mass., and Hamilton, Mass., while Kerry and his parents had lived on a farm in Millis, Mass., when he was 4 or 5 years old, though someone else farmed the land.
He argued that the Bush administration has hurt small farmers by failing to enforce antitrust laws and fight anti-competitive practices, leading to massive consolidation in the agricultural industry.
As president, Kerry said, he would establish a commission to review all of the country's trade agreements to ensure they are enforceable and balanced.
An aide said he had demonstrated his opposition to policies such as the Northeast Dairy Compact -- which expired in 2001 and which midwestern farmers had long lamented as unfair -- by backing the 2002 Farm Bill, which contained a provision designed to equalize pricing policies.
Earlier this week, the Bush campaign attacked Kerry for backing the compact.
Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot also took issue with a statement Kerry made to a local television interviewer in Minnesota on Friday, in which the senator said he represented "the conservative values" of rural America. In an e-mail statement, Racicot called that claim "campaign trail amnesia."
Russell Doane, 73, a farmer who grows kidney beans, potatoes and corn in Eau Claire, Wis., said the senator "seemed to understand the issues and has an ambitious program," adding, "I hope he can pay for it."
Kerry spent the rest of Saturday traveling south, with a stop to shoot clay pigeons at the Gunslick Trap Club in Holmen, Wis. He hit 17 of 25 orange disks with a 12-gauge shotgun. He then embarked on an evening fireworks cruise on the Mississippi River near Dubuque, Iowa.