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CLEVELAND, December 20—John Kerry will drop in on the Steubenville area of Ohio Thursday to go hunting with the local Democratic congressman, Ted Strickland. He represents the Sixth District, a 300-mile long slice along the Appalachian foothills that borders on Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky. It was the center of what was once industrial America, the region where most of the nation’s coal was mined and steel made. Today, all that’s left is a ruined economy. Incomes throughout the district have declined as unemployment increased. Outright poverty is on the rise.
Week after week, Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, have made forays up and down the Sixth. Ohio is of course a swing state, and the Democrats are hunting for every vote possible, both in the cities and in far-flung places like these.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore “made no effort” to win this district, Strickland said in an interview. By comparison, Clinton won the state overall—which Gore failed to do—and at least came close to capturing this district. But Gore represented all the positions people here dislike: He was for gun control and against coal-fired power plants, to name two big ones. The constituents here for the most part are hunters and overall are “culturally conservative,” says Strickland.
In this election, “I feel pretty good about my district,” says Strickland. “There’s a lot of activity.” In fact, the Democrats are pouring organizers and resources into the Sixth in the hopes of capitalizing on hard times there—retirees have been losing their health care and watching their pensions disappear, and blue-collar workers have struggled as the manufacturing base has collapsed. Kerry is pledging to revive industry here with a $10 billion federal investment in development.
The unions here are pretty much dominating the campaign, organized around the main office of the AFL-CIO in Cleveland. John Ryan, the executive secretary, said in an interview that the unions have registered 150,000 new voters this time around. Most are from union households. Twenty-five percent are thought to be undecided voters. Every day, teams of organizers from Ryan’s office fan out across Cleveland, knocking on doors, trying to persuade people to vote for Kerry. It’s a massive union effort, unlike anything that’s been seen here in recent times.
In 2000 Gore basically gave up on Ohio well before the election, never dropping in for a visit and refusing to spend money. Even so, he lost the state by only 3.5 percent. Key to his defeat was that he failed to rack up the huge majorities in such Democratic strongholds as Cleveland.
The polls show Kerry and George Bush in a virtual tie. The rural Sixth District where Kerry is heading to hunt is one of a handful of pockets around the state in which Democrats think they can deliver a sizable turnout, adding to expected large majorities in Cleveland and other large cities. They think they’ll need to get perhaps 200,000 more votes statewide than in 2000. Part of that total should come from the 117,000 votes Ralph Nader got in 2000. The Democrats believe they have safely wrecked any run by Nader here by forcing him off the ballot.