Candidates Steam Through Heartland

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John Kerry and John Edwards were linking up in St. Louis Thursday, while George W. Bush was to stump in Ohio.

The Democrats are switching from buses to a train, embarking on a five-state, 1,800-mile whistle-stop campaign tour. CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports it's the same train an underdog presidential candidate used in 1948, when Harry Truman surprised pundits and won re-election.

The train will take Kerry and Edwards through Missouri, then west through Kansas and Colorado in this two-week post-convention journey.

As Kerry has moved by bus across the heartland, reports Fuss, more people are coming out to see him, not only at rallies and small gatherings, but also a family or two at a time along the roadway. Some hold signs or flags, and occasionally await the candidate while sitting atop a tractor.

For the second time in a week, President Bush was making campaign stops Thursday in Ohio and Michigan. CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller reports those are battleground states that are critical to Mr. Bush's re-election strategy, especially Ohio, which he won four years ago. Its 20 electoral votes are deemed indispensable to his bid for a second term.

No Republican has won ever the White House without Ohio's electoral votes. A significant loss of manufacturing jobs in the state during the president's watch puts his chances there in jeopardy, but Mr. Bush argues that Ohio's economy, like the nation's, is on the rebound.

With national security the top issue in his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush came off the political trail briefly Thursday to sign a $417.5 billion wartime defense bill in Washington.

The bill provides an additional $25 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, body armor for troops and reinforced Humvee vehicles.

"With this legislation America's military will know that their country stands behind them as they fight for our freedom and as they spread the peace," Mr. Bush said.

The two presidential candidates clashed at close quarters along the banks of the Mississippi River on Wednesday, the Republican incumbent pledging to "spread ownership and opportunity" if re-elected while his Democratic challenger campaigned as a fiscal conservative able and eager to fix the economy.

Both men reached out to independent and crossover votes in late morning appearances three blocks apart that made one small city, Davenport, Iowa, ground zero in their close, cross-country campaign for the White House.

"Don't overlook discerning Democrats and wise independents," Mr. Bush urged GOP activists attending an outdoor rally and eager to register new voters for the November election.

"I have to tell you that I think labels are very misleading. You've got to look at what people fight for and what they do," Kerry said.

Downtown Davenport was as close as the two men have been to each other since the beginning of the campaign — and likely the closest they will be until their first nationally televised debate this fall.

And if it were coincidence that brought them to the same river city of 98,000 on the same day, there was no mystery about the attraction.

Mr. Bush lost Iowa to Al Gore by 4,144 votes in 2000 — and Scott County around Davenport narrowly as well — and wants the state in his column come November. So does Kerry, whose path to victory calls for holding all states that voted for the Democratic ticket in the last election while adding some that went the other way.

For his part, the Massachusetts senator couldn't resist a good-natured jab at the president.

"It occurred to me that he could come here for a great discussion about America's future if he were really willing to just turn a corner," he said with a smile — a twist on Mr. Bush's frequent campaign claim that America has turned a corner and is not turning back.

Asked what Kerry was doing in town, the president had a two-word answer: "Ask him."

In their appearances, it was as though the two rivals saw different countries. Mr. Bush described a nation on the mend after recession and terrorist attacks, while Kerry looked out across a land he said has suffered mismanagement and needs fixing.

"Because we acted, America has added more than 1.5 million new jobs over the past year. Because we acted, Iowa has added more than 11,000 jobs over the past year," the president told a downtown outdoor rally. "Because we acted, Iowa's unemployment rate is now 4.3 percent."

Countered Kerry: "We've lost in the last four years 1.8 million private sector jobs in America, 250,000 right here in Iowa."

State unemployment stood at 3 percent when Mr. Bush took office in January 2001. It reached a high of 4.7 percent in July 2003.

For all the campaign hoopla, not everyone in Davenport was focused on politics during the day. Police reported three bank robberies during the time the two candidates were there, drawing attention as well as law enforcement personnel to their appearances.
  • Joel Roberts

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