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Key State Delegates Want Visits From Kerry

With 17 battleground states at play in this year’s presidential election, Democratic delegates to the convention in Boston say that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won’t be able to win their states just by continuing to spend millions of dollars on television ads.

He’s got to be there. A lot.

“There are people who still want to touch him and feel him,” said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio).

Even though Kerry has visited most battleground states dozens of times since the beginning of his presidential bid, Jones and other delegates from states such as Ohio, Michigan, Florida, West Virginia and Arizona say he has to keep up the pace and even expand it.

“He has to show up. People have to know him better than they do now,” said Nancy White, a Michigan delegate and chairwoman of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners.

Kerry campaign operatives acknowledge that it’ll be a tall order to fill, given how many states are in play with just three months left until the election.

“You can’t be everywhere at once — we have only a finite number of days,” said Steve Elmendorf, Kerry’s deputy campaign manager. “We poll and target every couple of weeks. Some states need more trips. Others need more media.”

But Tom Shea, director of Kerry’s campaign in Florida, said it’s also about state directors demanding well-timed visits and rallies.

“You fight,” said Shea. “The national campaign has an idea of where they want him to be, but there’s some wiggle room.”

Of course, given the pivotal role that Florida played in the 2000 election, Shea said he doesn’t have to plead with Kerry’s national campaign directors for much more. The candidate has visited Florida 22 times — and counting.

“It’s not as big an issue for me as it is for other state directors,” said Shea. “We’re getting ours.”

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) agreed.

“I’m very pleased with [Kerry’s] presence in Florida,” he said. “This is without us having to do a lot of begging.”

Still, most everyone agreed that given the difficulty of getting Kerry to every state, it will be crucial to use appearances by his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), and both mens’ wives. “He’s got to use surrogates to work the states as well, because he can’t be everywhere,” Jones said.

Indeed, Elmendorf referred to the two candidates and their wives as “the big four,” and indicated they would be fanning out to battleground states throughout the campaign season.

Of course, when Kerry or a surrogate shows up, delegates say, they’ve got to know the state’s issues backwards and forwards.

“One of the things he still has to accomplish in West Virginia is letting the people of our state know that he understands we’re an energy-production state,” said West Virginia State Auditor Glen Gainer. “Republicans try to paint him as really out there on the environment and opposed to coal.”

Gainer and West Virginia state Sen. Shirley Love of Oakhill said Kerry also needs to schedule a hunting trip in the state to reinforce for West Virginians that he supports gun owners’ rights.

“He can’t come in looking at gun control like [2000 Democratic presidential nominee] Al Gore did. In West Virginia, it’s a heritage issue,” said Love. “He needs to come down some Friday night and go out into the woods early in the morning.”

Ditto for Michigan, said state Sen. Mike Prusi.

“The [National Rifle Association] and the Second Amendment folks have a big presence” in his state’s Upper Peninsula, Prusi said. Still, Prusi said he has been convinced by Kerry’s own hunting experience that “he’s demonstrated that he understands the recreational aspects of gun ownership.”

Arizona delegates emphasized the need for Kerry to reach out to retirees and American Indians.

“We elected the new governor in Arizona,” said Ak-Chin Indian Community Vice Chairman Delia Carlyle of American Indians’ role in installing Democrat Janet Napolitano as governor in 2002. “I know it’s hard to travel to all 50 states, but [Kerry should] at least make an effort to go out to Indian country.”

Many delegates also advised Kerry to not make the same mistakes as Gore did when he pulled out of battleground states.

“Two weeks before the election, Gore left us high and dry and pulled out of Ohio,” said Rick Brunner, an Ohio attorney and Democratic delegate. “And we still came to within three percent [of Bush]. If we had put Gore over the top, Florida wouldn’t have mattered.”

Elmendorf, however, said that would not be a problem this time around.

Gore’s campaign “clearly should have stayed in Ohio,” said Elmendorf. “But this is a different candidate. We may have strengths in some places that Gore didn’t.”

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