The question is put to Andy Griffin, a supporter of President Bush from Canton, Ohio, after a Bush rally here. On Election Day, will his vote be for Bush or against Democrat John F. Kerry?
"It's 100 percent for Bush," says Griffin, a 22-year-old accountant. "It wouldn't matter who he's running against, unless it was my dad."
A day later and 50 miles to the east, the same question is put to Jack Saling, a Kerry supporter waiting for the Massachusetts senator to arrive in Youngstown for an event. "It's 50-50," says Saling, a veteran and retired trucker. "I've never followed Kerry that much, but we need a change, a serious change."
Those responses, typical of the partisans at Bush and Kerry events across the country, say much about the passions that define the 2004 elections: The Republican faithful love their candidate; the Democratic faithful have less such enthusiasm for Kerry but know he is their vessel for defeating Bush -- about which they are passionate.
The difference explains why crowds at Bush rallies, though similar in size to those at Kerry events, have been more energetic. The reception for Kerry is warm at Democratic events; the reception for Bush at GOP events is akin to that of a rock star. The different motivation of Kerry and Bush supporters also explains the difference in campaigning styles between the two presidential contenders. Bush's stump speech is packed with appeals to his conservative supporters; his biggest applause lines are typically his call for limits on jury awards and his opposition to gay marriage. Kerry's speech is full of economic facts and figures and paeans to the middle class; he typically gets his best reactions when he mentions job losses and criticizes Bush's honesty.
A couple of days spent with each candidate last week -- including a day each here in Ohio -- indicated a clear difference in approach as they entered their final month of campaigning. Following the Bush campaign's calculation that the election will be determined more by the turnout of each party's faithful, Bush's speeches and their settings are largely emotional celebrations of conservatism. The Kerry campaign, figuring the election will be determined as much by centrist "swing voters," is making more of an overt appeal to the middle class.
The theme even comes through in the music that greets each candidate's arrival; Bush enters to the Brooks & Dunn tune "Only in America." The other country music tune to introduce Bush is George Strait's "Heartland." Both appeal to the country music lovers in pro-GOP "red states." Kerry's introductory song is working-class hero Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender."
The crowds amplify the differences, too. Tickets to Bush events, distributed by the Republican Party, go only to those who volunteer or donate to the party or, in some cases, sign an endorsement of the GOP ticket and provide names and addresses; party workers police the crowds for signs of Kerry supporters, who have been evicted. The Bush crowds tend to be a mix of religious conservatives and businessmen. Kerry's campaign, too, distributes tickets, often through labor unions, although there is little effort made to determine ideological purity. "I trust nobody here had to sign a loyalty oath to get in," Kerry likes to say before taking questions from the crowd.
Bush, the more polarizing figure, tends to draw far more demonstrators. Hundreds of protesters waving Kerry-Edwards signs are common outside Bush events, while Kerry draws smaller and less organized protests, with homemade signs such as one in Youngstown proclaiming a verse from James 1:8: "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."
Some differences are unsurprising and fit the candidates' stereotypes: Bush is mechanized and punctual; Kerry dawdles and pursues a more leisurely public schedule. Other contrasts are unexpected.
Stump speeches evolve from day to day, of course. But Bush is reliably folksy and colloquial while Kerry is routinely formal and scholarly. Bush rarely varies his speech by more than a few words; Kerry's frequent, meandering digressions give his aides fits. Bush makes terrorism the overarching theme of his remarks and portrays firm leadership as his most important trait. Kerry ties together his speech with a theme of economic populism, and honesty is the trait he emphasizes most. Bush's speech is largely a defense of his record in office, punctuated by barbs at Kerry. Kerry's speech is above all an indictment of Bush's record, with less emphasis on how he would do things better.
The heart of Bush's speech is its second half -- terrorism and the threat to Americans. "We are striking the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home," the president says. But it is Bush's recitation of a social-conservative creed that generally draws his loudest applause. "We believe in a culture of life in which every person matters and every being counts," he often says. "We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. We stand for the appointment of federal judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law."
If Bush's speech blends an appeal to his economic and religious base with a heavy emphasis on the dangers of terrorism, Kerry repeatedly contends that Bush's "wrong choices" have harmed the middle class, and he proposes a populist-sounding "new direction."
"Can America afford four more years of George W. Bush?" Kerry asks. "Time and time again, this president has chosen the powerful and well-connected over hardworking middle-class families and those who are struggling to join the middle class." Kerry, putting relatively little emphasis on terrorism, typically begins with Iraq, the "biggest wrong choice of all." He says the country is spending $200 billion in Iraq -- a figure Bush disputes -- and suggests that has meant the money can't go to health care, education, jobs and homeland security.
Bush closes with an emotional, and spiritual, ode to the powers of liberty, his view that "freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world." Recalling his trip to the rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2001, he vows: "I will defend the security of the people of this country, whatever it takes."
To close his speech, Kerry relies on a woman who left a message with an aide for him after a rally in Ohio. "She said, 'Senator Kerry, we've got your back,' " Kerry says. "Today, I've got a message for that woman and every American working to build a better life for their family: I've got your back, too."
Telling his audience that "the American Dream is on the ballot," Kerry argues: "Four more years of Bush choices is four more years we just can't afford. You deserve a new choice."
The reaction to Kerry can, at times, become impassioned. At an airport arrival in Portsmouth, N.H., screaming fans cheered Kerry, who greeted them through a chain-link fence. Wearing a canvas field jacket over his business suit, Kerry produced a roar from the crowd when he said: "This president has chosen the wealthy and the powerful and the special interests. I've chosen the American people and the middle class."
Yet the partisans in Portsmouth made clear their excitement was about defeating Bush, not electing Kerry. "It's not the guy, it's the policies," Jim Richmond, one participant, says of his support for Kerry. Asked why he's backing Kerry, Richmond, a supporter of Howard Dean in the primary, explains: "George Bush has blown it for me."
The anti-Bush sentiment is pervasive at Kerry's events. Speaking at a black church in Cleveland before Kerry's speech, former congressman Louis Stokes described Kerry as someone who "can stand toe to toe with Bush and put him in his place." Comparing Bush to Barry Goldwater in 1964, Stokes said: "We stopped Goldwater and we can stop Bush."
Same thing in Youngstown, where hospital worker Beverly Bailey gave her view of Kerry after the Democrat spoke. "I don't like Bush," she said. The next day in Philadelphia, Kerry delivered his usual message to a group of black ministers, who reacted politely but not enthusiastically, sitting quietly through his talk. When Kerry finished, Jesse L. Jackson, coaxed the crowd gradually into a standing ovation.
A day earlier, as Bush's bus tour made its way through Mansfield, Ohio, the sentiment was almost the reverse, as the crowd applauded him dozens of times. "I'm 100 percent for George Bush. George Bush is the only one for the job," hollered Autumn Cramer, who couldn't get a ticket to Bush's event but stood outside in the rain with other supporters holding a homemade sign reading: "Bush, a leader with faith, courage, strength." Asked about her motivations, she says nothing about Kerry, only that Bush "is going to keep the country safe."
Up the road in Cuyahoga Falls, Deborah Havens was lucky enough to get a ticket to Bush's event; her family is in construction and gives money to the GOP, so the party gave her a ticket, she said. The Griffin brothers from Canton also scored tickets; Adam, Andy's brother, identified himself as a Christian who is joining the Marines. His main issue: opposition to gay marriage, he said. And his vote on Nov. 2 has little to do with Kerry, he said. "It's 100 percent I like Bush."