- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

DAVENPORT, Iowa — President Bush and Sen. John Kerry campaigned within a few blocks of each other yesterday, with each side claiming to have planned its visit to this swing state first.

While Mr. Bush addressed an outdoor rally packed with 7,000 cheering supporters, Mr. Kerry spoke to 150 invited guests at an economic summit in a nearby conference center.

“He could come here for a great discussion about America’s future, if he were really willing to just turn a corner,” the Massachusetts Democrat told his audience.

It was a jab at one of the president’s recent slogans: “We’ve turned the corner, and we’re not turning back.”

Minutes later, as if to deny Mr. Kerry the satisfaction of pre-empting his slogan, the president came up with a modified version: “We’re moving forward, and we’re not going back.”

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer accused the president of “playing follow the leader” and trying to show up his challenger by throwing together a larger crowd.

“The Bush campaign has been following the Kerry campaign ever since the primaries,” Mr. Singer said. “Our event was planned well over a month ago as a small, town-hall style meeting.”

White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy denied that the president was following Mr. Kerry.

“I think it’s the other way around,” he said. “We had to book facilities here three weeks ago.”

Mr. Bush was introduced by Rep. Jim Nussle, Iowa Republican, who warmed up the crowd on the banks of the Mississippi River by inciting them to send a message to Mr. Kerry.

“He’s close enough to hear you,” he said before leading the crowd in a chant of: “Four more years! Four more years!

“You know, there are some people who are calling this the duel in Davenport,” he added. “I think we just won.”

Mr. Kerry countered by releasing a list of more than 200 corporate executives who endorse his bid for the presidency. He vowed to create “a business climate that helps companies succeed and creates good-paying jobs right here in America.”

Meanwhile, the president slammed Mr. Kerry for choosing a trial lawyer, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, as his running mate. Mr. Bush complained that “frivolous lawsuits” have driven up the cost of health care and driven doctors out of business.

“You cannot be pro-patient and pro-doctor and pro-trial lawyer at the same time,” he said. “You have to choose. My opponent made his choice, and he put him on the ticket.”

While in Iowa, which Al Gore carried in 2000 by 4,000 votes, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry courted the all-important agricultural vote.

Mr. Kerry waved two ears of corn out the window of his campaign bus as his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, cheered him on.

“That’s unbelievable,” said a Bush aide upon seeing a picture of the corn-toting Democrat. “That’s almost as bad as the space suit,” referring to a powder-blue “bunny suit” that Mr. Kerry donned during a NASA visit last week, prompting ridicule from Republicans and late-night TV comedians.

Not to be outdone, the president stopped at a farmers market, pulled the husk off an ear of corn and bit into the raw vegetable.

“Oh, yeah, you don’t even need to cook it,” he said. “It’s really good.”

He ignored questions from reporters about the proximity of his opponent.

“We’re here buying some corn,” Mr. Bush said.

“What’s Kerry doing here?” a reporter said.

“Ask him,” the president replied curtly, still eating his corn.

“Who’d ever have thought you could eat raw corn?” marveled country music singer Larry Gatlin, a longtime friend of Mr. Bush.

“I didn’t,” the president replied.

While the candidates dueled over corn, their supporters waged a war of placards on the streets of Davenport. One Bush backer waved a sign that said, “Kerry is Scary,” while a Kerry supporter brandished a placard, festooned with swastikas, that said, “Stop Fascism; Stop Bush.”

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