More than 5,000 people huddled together in a steady rain here Saturday to hear a feisty John F. Kerry try to convince voters in this historic swing community that President Bush has let them down.
On the second day of the Democratic ticket's 15-day, 22-state tour, Kerry told the seemingly partisan crowd packed onto a parking lot at the town's old train station that the Bush administration has failed to protect jobs and to meet the nation's educational and health care needs. And Kerry lambasted the president for saying while campaigning Friday in Missouri and Michigan that the country was "turning the corner."
"Let me ask you: If you're one in 44 million who doesn't have any health insurance and doesn't have any prospect of buying any, are you turning the corner?" Kerry shouted. "If you're one of those people who has a job that pays $9,000 less than the jobs that we lost overseas, are we turning the corner for those folks?"
Steve Schmidt, a Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman, responded that "John Kerry's pessimism is now comparing the 1.5 million new jobs created since August to the Great Depression, and trying to tell America that things aren't improving."
Kerry -- flanked on stage by vice presidential nominee John Edwards and their families -- made the most of introducing his wife of nine years, who happens to have an estate in nearby Pittsburgh and a high profile in the state.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, a former Republican who lived most of her life in Pennsylvania, is popular in the state and was warmly received. Democrats are counting on her to draw Republicans to the ticket.
The tour essentially started in Pennsylvania on Friday, where the traveling entourage, including actor Ben Affleck, was greeted by about 10,000 people in Scranton and another 15,000 in Harrisburg.
"There is something not going right," Heinz Kerry told the cheering crowd. "We have to rearrange the house and make sure we are doing things the right way and plan for the future."
Unlike most political "bus tours" that rely heavily on planes, the Kerry campaign is committed to keeping this a trip of buses, trains and boats, from the East Coast to California. Today the 17-vehicle motorcade cruised from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, arriving at the end of the day in Ohio, where about 10,000 people greeted the candidate at the Muskingum County courthouse in Zanesville. These states, like others Kerry and Edwards will visit in the next two weeks, are highly competitive states in the Nov. 2 presidential election.
In Wheeling, W.Va. Kerry was greeted at the banks of the Ohio River by upwards of 12,000 people. He tailored his message to the working class and made an effort to associate himself with the culture of the state, with references to hunting and fishing, and going in to coal mines. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.) similarly tried to reassure the audience that he knows Kerry well and that the Massachusetts senator would represent the interests of the state, which Bush won in 2000.
"You've got coal to be dug right here. It can be mined. But we've got to make sure we do it clean," Kerry said. "That's why I've got a $2 billion effort that's going straight into clean coal technology."
His first stop of the day, Westmoreland County, Pa., where Greensburg is, has been trending Republican. Democratic nominee Al Gore lost the electoral college vote to Bush in 2000 after winning the state, and although Democrat Bill Clinton carried it twice, his 1996 margin was far smaller than it was in 1992.
"Republicans are saying this is becoming more and more Republican, but not this year!" Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) told the crowd.
While most of those who lined the street of the small town today appeared to be Democrats, some insisted that their Republican friends are reconsidering their 2000 vote. "I've been teaching for 35 years, and many of my friends are educators and Republicans who are very disappointed that Bush didn't fund No Child Left Behind," said Jim Bishop, referring to the law that requires schools to achieve grade-level standards in math and English. "It's a good program, but schools have had to drop other [enrichment] courses to comply with the testing because there's not enough money."
Jim Resh, who described himself as a Democrat, observed: "What I'm seeing are people who moved to Bush in 2000 because of Bill Clinton's personal actions are now moving back."