Candidates Eye The Mountain State

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President Bush set his re-election sights Sunday on the part of West Virginia that strongly supported him four years ago and where he hopes to build a big lead against rival John Kerry in November.

The president makes his second trip in four months to Parkersburg, W.Va., an area that gave Bush an 8,000 vote edge over Democrat Al Gore in 2000. It was Bush's biggest victory margin of any area in the state, which he won by 6 percentage points.

This is Bush's eighth visit of the year to West Virginia. Kerry has campaigned in the state five times and will visit again on Monday.

Kerry again slammed the Bush administration's record Saturday before making a quick exit from the campaign trail in Ohio to be with his ailing wife.

Polls show West Virginia leaning toward Bush, despite Democrats holding a 2-1 advantage in voter registration over Republicans.

The shift toward Bush in West Virginia occurred as public debate nationally moved away from the uncertain economy and the war in Iraq, two areas where Bush is vulnerable.

A pro-Bush veterans group created a political uproar starting in early August by accusing Kerry of lying to get his medals during the Vietnam War.

TV ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacking Kerry ran in West Virginia, "but I've heard more talk about ads focusing on Kerry's Senate record than on the Swift boats," said state GOP chairman Kris Warner. He claims that West Virginia voters are focused on education, tort reform, tax cuts and, in a state where hunting is important, guns.

The Kerry campaign says the Bush administration has let West Virginia down on the economy, prematurely lifting tariffs the president imposed on foreign steel and failing to spend money as promised for clean coal technology.

"Bush has played politics with the steel industry from day one, and his miscalculations have hurt steelworkers," said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Kerry told a rally in Ohio Saturday the Bush employment promise is millions of jobs short of its goal.

And he also blasted the administration for doing nothing to curb the rising cost of health care. Kerry says senior citizens will wind up paying for it.

Kerry left the campaign to motorcade back to Pennsylvania after his wife became ill at a separate event.

Teresa Heinz Kerry had tests at a hospital in Mason City, Iowa and was later released after complaining of an upset stomach. She's gone home to Pennsylvania.

Kerry makes his sixth appearance Monday at a Labor Day picnic in West Virginia's coal country. Bush visits southwest West Virginia on Friday with a stop in Huntington.

Bush was only the fourth Republican presidential candidate to win West Virginia since 1932.

  • Joel Roberts

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