"The economy is strong, and it's getting stronger," Mr. Bush said to enthusiastic applause in Canton as the general election campaign began in earnest after Kerry claimed the Democratic nomination this week at the party's convention in Boston.
The president acknowledged the economy is lagging in eastern Ohio and elsewhere. In fact, he rode into the city on a campaign bus with 10 workers from the Timken Co., which said in May that declining production was behind its decision to close three bearings plants in Canton area, potentially idling 1,300 employees.
"I just traveled on the bus with workers who told me they were nervous about their future," Mr. Bush said. "They're concerned. I am, too, and therefore we must have a president who understands that if we're to keep jobs at home, America must be the best place to do business."
Kerry, on the second day of a two-week coast-to-coast trip with running mate John Edwards, told supporters in Greensburg, Pa., "The president said to America that we're turning the corner, referring to the economy.
"Let me ask you: if you're one of those 44 million Americans who doesn't have health insurance, and you have no prospect of buying it, are you turning a corner?"
"No!" the crowd yelled.
"If you're one of those people that has a job that pays $9,000 less than the jobs that we lost overseas, are we turning the corner for those folks?"
"No!" again was the response.
Mary Lynn Harden, 26, Wheeling, W.Va., drove and hour and a half to see Kerry speak, along with her friend Ben Mack, 27, of Morgantown, W.Va.
Harden said the Democrats share their concerns about issues such as education and the environment. "The other party sometimes forgets we exist," she said.
Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, noted that her father grew up in Fayette County and still lives there. "I'm home, too," she told the crowd in Greensburg.
The Democrats were ending their day in Zanesville, Ohio, about 25 miles along Interstate 70 from Cambridge, Ohio, where Mr. Bush stopped after Canton before crossing the Ohio River into Wheeling, W.Va. Less than two hours later, Kerry was staging an event in Wheeling before setting out for Zanesville. And Mr. Bush was headed toward Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania is a battleground state with 21 electoral votes, one more than Ohio.
"You only need a map to decipher the Bush strategy," notes CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller. "His campaign believes the election will be decided by a dozen or so battleground states that Mr. Bush either won or lost four years ago by narrow margins. And those are the must-win targets, even in July."
In an interview with Correspondent Bob Schieffer for the CBS News broadcast Face The Nation, Kerry said he stands by his support for an intelligence pointman inside the White House.
"One of the reasons you have a problem," Kerry said, "is (different intelligence agencies) have no way of knowing what the right hand is doing vs. the left hand. If you're going to really lead a war on terror , I think it's critical to have ... direct accountablity to the president, and I think the American people want it."
No Republican has captured the White House without carrying Ohio, which he did in 2000 when he defeated Democrat Al Gore by 3.6 percentage points to win the state's 20 electoral votes.
Stark County, home to Canton, is an area that Ohio political analysts say is a bellwether for the state in presidential elections.
Ohio has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs, and the county's unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in June, compared with 5.6 percent nationally. The federal deficit is at a record high, and economic growth slowed this spring.
Still, Mr. Bush struck a positive tone during the 19th visit to Ohio of his presidency.
"After four more years, there will be better paying jobs in America. After four more years, there will be more small businesses. After four more years, the American economy will continue to be the strongest in the world," the president said.
Later, in Cambridge, Mr. Bush offered a new stump speech with the phrases, "We've turned the corner, and we're not turning back" and "Results matter."
Mr. Bush traveled on a seven-bus motorcade - a caravan called "the Heart and Soul Moving America Forward" tour - that rolled south out of Cleveland in the early morning.
In Canton, Bush supporters lined the streets, but protesters were present, too. "Where are the jobs, George," one sign said. "Protect my future, vote Kerry," said a second.
Thousands of people, overwhelmingly supporters of the president, lined the streets of Dover when the buses came through town.
One woman raised a sign that said, "Dover apologizes for the idiots ahead." It was a reference to demonstrators a few blocks ahead where Kerry supporters chanted "No more Bush!" and held signs that said "War is not healthy."
At a candy store downtown, Mr. Bush bought six chocolate-covered caramels - "150 calories a bite," he joked - six marshmallow candies and a bag of caramel corn. Total bill: $1.50.
As evidence of the conflicted race for the White House, a man at the counter told the president, "Four more years." Earlier, in Canton, a boy held up a sign along the bus route that said, "Bush's last tour."