Bush, Kerry both in Ohio Sunday for final push

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 3, 2004

CINCINNATI (AP) - The Cincinnati Reds' ballpark on Sunday night had all the trappings of a home baseball game - except a baseball team. President Bush was in town.

The white light towers projecting from the upper deck were aglow, the stands were filled with a cheering crowd and Reds play-by-play announcer Marty Brennaman was providing commentary - only this time it was for Republican officeholders warming up the crowd for Bush.

The crowd in this Republican stronghold waved Bush signs, and young children wearing Halloween costumes danced across the tarpaulin covering the infield.

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Twelve-year-old Jeff Schnirring of Cincinnati wore a number eight Bengals football jersey, a University of Cincinnati jacket and a rubber mask in the shape of a football.

Jeff's father, also named Jeff, said his son is such a Bush fan that it's sometimes impossible to have a conversation with him when the president is on television.

''The other day, I was trying to talk to him and he shushed me. There was an ad on,'' the father said.

Bush was introduced by the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, and Reds owner Carl Lindner, a Bush donor, sat about 20 feet behind Bush as he spoke.

''I am here to ask you to get your friends and neighbors out to the polls and vote. With your help we will carry Ohio again,'' he said.

Sunday morning, Democratic rival John Kerry spoke from the pulpit to an appreciative crowd at Shiloh Baptist Church in Dayton.

Too many people are without health care, too many children turned away from early education programs and too many people out of work, Kerry said. He told the predominantly black congregation that the unemployment rate remains higher among blacks than whites.

''Still the gap grows wider and they don't do anything about it,'' Kerry said. ''It is ultimately a choice whether we're going to keep faith with the faith we profess.''

In Cincinnati, Bush characterized his rival as someone who frequently changes positions.

''Whether you agree with me or not, you know where I stand. You cannot say that about my opponent,'' Bush said.

Bush spoke for about 40 minutes before descending the platform to speak to members of the crowd and finally exiting through the home team dugout. Just after he finished speaking red, white and blue fireworks shot out of cannons in the shape of steamship smokestacks, which are used every time the Reds hit a home run.

Major league ballparks are a familiar setting for Bush, who was managing partner of the Texas Rangers from 1989-94. The president maintains support among his former colleagues, with the Bush campaign having received direct contributions from owners and executives of more than half of the sport's 30 teams, an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports found.

Democratic nominee John Kerry, by contrast, has taken in money from only a handful of baseball interests.

James Masters, 58, a radiologist from Cincinnati, brought his 16-year-old son, Clay, to see Bush in Cincinnati.

''My son's a young Republican. He wanted to see the president up close. I thought he'd get a big kick out of it,'' he said. ''It's a little tense in our house. My wife's a Democrat. She's going to vote for John Kerry.''

Outside the ballpark, some nearby parking lots were charging a game-day-like $35 per space, and vendors were hawking campaign buttons and other memorabilia.

Near one of the vendors, several protesters held up anti-Bush signs, one of which read ''W is for war-monger.'' Donna Hoffman, 54, of Cincinnati, held up a sign that said, ''No more years.''

''I think we're going in the wrong direction,'' said Hoffman, who lost her job as a graphic designer and is now working as a secretary in a hospital.

Bush handily defeated Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race in Hamilton County with 204,175 votes to Gore's 161,578 votes. Bush carried the state of Ohio by about 4 percentage points.

In Dayton, Willie Mae Jones said Kerry can count on the black vote.

''Senator Kerry will help bring jobs and stop jobs from going overseas,'' she said.

Analysts who aren't counting on blacks to vote are wrong, said Maria Holt, of Dayton.

''It's very, very important in this election we really need to turn out 100 percent because we will be the deciding factor,'' she said. ''We're confident we'll have a great showing.''