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Hunting For Battleground Votes

Sen. John Kerry said he bagged a goose on a hunting trip Thursday, but his real target was undecided voters in the crucial swing state of Ohio. President Bush focused on health care on a trip to his favorite campaign destination, Pennsylvania.

The two states, Pennsylvania and Ohio – with 21 and 20 electoral votes, respectively – are among the biggest prizes still up for grabs as the candidates race to gain the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House on Nov. 2.

Kerry returned after his two-hour hunting trip wearing a camouflage jacket and carrying a 12-gauge shotgun, but someone else carried the bird he said he shot.

"I'm too lazy," Kerry joked. "I'm still giddy over the Red Sox. It was hard to focus."

The Massachusetts senator was referring to Boston's American League championship Wednesday night. He stayed up late cheering his hometown team onto victory, then got up for a 7 a.m. hunting trip at a supporter's produce farm.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush was pitching his plan to curb rising medical costs by limiting malpractice awards and renewing his charge that Kerry's plans to expand insurance coverage represent more big government.

"The Kerry plan would move America down the road toward federal control of health care," said the president, during a stop in Downingtown, Pa., outside Philadelphia.

Kerry's prescription for health care is "bigger government with higher costs," Mr. Bush said, a claim that the Democrat's campaign says is false.

Mr. Bush is stumping hard in Pennsylvania, which he lost to Democrat Al Gore in 2000 by 205,000 votes. The visit is his 40th to the Keystone State as president.

Later Thursday, Kerry accused President Bush of slowing scientific advancement after earning a special endorsement from the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, a proponent of the embryonic stem cell research on which the president has placed limits.

"The American people deserve a president who understands that when America invests in science and technology, we can build a stronger economy and create jobs for the 21st century," Kerry said during a campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio. "But George Bush has literally ... turned his back on the spirit of exploration and discovery."

Reeve's widow, Dana, said her family has been grieving privately since her husband died Oct. 10. "My inclination would be to remain private for a good long while," she said. "But I came here today in support of John Kerry because this is so important. This is what Chris wanted."

National polls show the race remains extremely close. A new AP-Ipsos Public Affairs poll gives Kerry a 49-46 percent edge over Mr. Bush among likely voters, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The most recent CBS News/New York Times survey gives Mr. Bush a 47-45 percent lead.

In Florida, the richest swing state of all with 27 electoral votes, Kerry has essentially pulled even with the president. Mr. Bush was favored over Kerry by 48-47 percent among 808 likely voters in a Quinnipiac University Poll, well within the 3.5 percent margin of error. The same polling organization showed Mr. Bush with a 51-44 lead two weeks ago.

Kerry's hunting trip was part of an effort to win over swing voters who may be open to voting against President Bush but aren't sure they feel any connection with Kerry.

While the Democrat campaigns as an all-American, his political opponents are working to leave voters with a different impression. Mr. Bush tells voters that Kerry is on the "left bank'' of society, opposing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Kerry does not support same-sex marriage but says the matter is for states to decide, and he favors civil unions for same-sex couples.

"We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society," Mr. Bush said Wednesday in Mason City, Iowa. "We stand for the Second Amendment, which protects every individual American's right to bear arms."

The National Rifle Association said it bought a full-page ad in Thursday's Youngstown newspaper that says Kerry is posing as a sportsman while opposing gun-owners' rights. Kerry has denied NRA claims that he wants to "take away" guns, but he supported the ban on assault-type weapons and requiring background checks at gun shows

"If John Kerry thinks the Second Amendment is about photo ops, he's Daffy," says the ad the NRA said would run in The Vindicator. It features a large photo of Kerry with his finger on a shotgun trigger but looking in another direction.

Labor unions have been circulating fliers among workers that say Kerry won't take away guns. "He likes his own gun too much," says one of the fliers from the Building Trades Department of the AFL-CIO that features a picture of Kerry aiming a shotgun.

Kerry's aides said he spent about two hours hunting at a blind set up in a cornfield. More than two-dozen journalists were invited to the farm outside of Youngstown to see Kerry emerge from the field, but none witnessed Kerry taking any shots.

Kerry was accompanied by Ohio Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland; Bob Bellino, a board member for the local Ducks Unlimited; and Neal Brady, assistant park manager of Indian Lake State Park in western Ohio. Each of his companions carried a dead goose on the way back, while Kerry walked beside them with his 12-gauge in one hand and the other free to pet a yellow Labrador named Woody.

Kerry said each of the four men shot a goose.

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