With 12 days to go before the election, it was time to show the serious artillery.
John F. Kerry brought his campaign to a duck blind in far eastern Ohio on Thursday morning, and while he managed to clip one unfortunate goose, he was really aiming for undecided voters in this battleground state.
Senior adviser Mike McCurry said that the two-hour hunting trip was part of a strategy in the final days to show voters a "personal dimension" of Kerry, who has had problems among voters with the "likability" factor. Kerry has also been talking about his Catholic faith more. On Friday, he will speak on women's issues and on Sunday will discuss how his personal values would frame his decision making as president.
Guns and hunting rights are huge issues in the middle of the country, which includes a number of the battleground states in which Kerry is competing.
Clearly concerned about his low rating from the National Rifle Association -- he got an F on the NRA's last report card, and it is running ads in key states against him -- Kerry often makes a point during his stump speech of announcing that he owns guns.
Thursday morning, he happily emerged from the duck blind toting a Mossberg 835 Ulti Mag-pump action 12-gauge shotgun, but someone else was carrying his dead prey. "I'm too lazy," Kerry joked, adding that he was still "giddy" over the pennant victory Wednesday night of his beloved Boston Red Sox, catapulting the team into the World Series.
Twenty-five reporters and cameramen were taken on the carefully staged event, but none saw Kerry shoot anything. They were kept quite a distance away.
What they did see, however, was a glorious photo opportunity: Kerry emerging from the blind, victorious with the other men, perfectly outfitted in hunting gear.
"He's going to walk down that line of corn," an aide explained. No questions, the media were told. The corn was still golden and standing.
Neither the Bush campaign nor the NRA was going to let this moment go unanswered. The NRA bought a full-page ad in the Youngstown newspaper accusing Kerry of suiting himself as a sportsman while opposing gun owners' rights. Kerry has said that he supports the right of hunters to own guns, but the powerful gun lobby assailed him for supporting the ban on assault weapons and requiring background checks on gun purchases.
"If John Kerry thinks the Second Amendment is about photo ops, he's Daffy," the ad in the Youngstown Vindicator said.
Vice President Cheney, also campaigning in Ohio, mocked Kerry. "The senator who gets a grade of 'F' from the National Rifle Association went hunting this morning," Cheney said to a crowd in a soccer arena outside Toledo.
"I understand he bought a new camouflage jacket for the occasion, which did make me wonder how regularly he does go goose hunting." Waiting for the howls to recede, the vice president continued, "My personal opinion is that his new camo jacket is an October disguise, an effort he's making to hide the fact that he votes against gun-owner rights at every turn."
In fact, Kerry borrowed a jacket from one of the other hunters, said a Kerry spokesman, adding that the candidate has three similar jackets at home.
Kerry purchased a nonresident hunting license in Ohio last Saturday, a fact that was widely reported in this hotly contested state. His license permits him to hunt waterfowl in wetlands habitat.
Kerry was joined by Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), Bob Bellino of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter and Neal Brady, assistant manager of Indian Lake State Park.
The hunting party bagged four geese. The other three men carried their own dead birds.
Staff writer Michael Laris, traveling with Cheney, contributed to this report.