- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2004

BOSTON — Sen. John Kerry made a surprise detour last night during his journey across the country to a baseball game here, where he will receive his party’s presidential nomination later this week at the Democratic National Convention.

Shortly after taking off from Columbus, Ohio, for a scheduled flight to Florida on his campaign plane loaded with reporters and Secret Service agents, Mr. Kerry gathered reporters and asked whether they could keep a secret.

“This plane is diverted, and we’re going to Boston,” he said, somewhat dramatically. “And we’re going to the Yankees-Red Sox game. Right now.”

Reporters were under strict orders to keep mum about the change in plan because, Mr. Kerry said, of security concerns.

At Fenway Park, Mr. Kerry was joined by Will Pumyea, a soldier in the Massachusetts National Guard who just returned from Iraq. Asked about their relationship, Mr. Kerry said: “He supports me.”

Originally, the plan was for Mr. Kerry to receive the game’s first pitch from Mr. Pumyea. Asked why he would catch rather than pitch, Mr. Kerry said, “We may do both.” Pressed on the matter, he said, “Because, I invited this guy from Iraq to come, and I didn’t want to displace him.”

In the end, Mr. Kerry — who was greeted by a full house that was evenly divided by boos and applause — threw the first pitch and Mr. Pumyea’s chance at the mound got scratched.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kerry was in Ohio, where he got some religion in a spirited sermon that touched on abortion, same-sex “marriage” and even the evils of political polling.

“John Kerry, if I offend you, I will be sorry — maybe,” said the Rev. Timothy J. Clarke, bishop of First Church of God in Columbus, before turning back to the more than 1,000 worshippers before him to preach against political polling.

“Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our country,” Mr. Clarke said to agreement from Mr. Kerry. “We are politicians and not statesmen.”

He then illustrated his point by asking the mostly black congregation: “You know where you’d be today if Lincoln had taken a poll? Y’all would be in a big mess today.”

One of the most stirring points of Mr. Clarke’s hourlong sermon stemmed from the pro-life protesters outside the church, who waved aloft large pictures of aborted fetuses.

Mr. Clarke prayed for the protesters with the “ugly pictures” — along with a man who interrupted the service to call Mr. Kerry a “phony” — but admonished them just the same.

“They’re like a one-string guitar player,” he said. “What if God put up a picture of all the stuff they’ve done?”

While the minister preached against abortion and same-sex “marriage,” he said that such issues are “not America’s biggest problem.”

“Same-sex marriage is wrong,” Mr. Clarke said. “I’ve preached against it.”

But although “the separation of church and state does not allow us to endorse candidates,” he called Mr. Kerry “a hero among us.”

The Massachusetts senator stopped in Ohio yesterday on his way across the country to the Democratic National Convention later this week in Boston.

Ohio has become one of the hottest battleground states in this presidential election.

A large front-page story in the Columbus Dispatch showed the faces of Mr. Kerry and President Bush in determined stares, noses inches apart with a headline, “Neck and Neck.” It was about a poll showing 47 percent for Mr. Bush, 44 percent for Mr. Kerry and 7 percent undecided, that also noted Ohio has backed the national winner in all but two elections since 1900.

It was a favorable crowd that Mr. Kerry chose to visit yesterday morning at the First Church of God. Black Ohioans support Mr. Kerry by 90 percent, according to the Dispatch’s poll, while 4 percent support Mr. Bush.

But even among supporters, there’s some dissension. Just as Mr. Kerry began to speak, a shaggy-haired white man holding a Bible shouted that Mr. Kerry is “a big phony.” Several large church staffers quickly hustled the man out of the sanctuary.

For the most part though, it was a friendly crowd helped along by two electric organs, two drum sets, an electric bass guitar and a 75-member choir.

Mr. Kerry sat on stage, tapping his feet and sometimes clapping along. When given a chance to speak, he waxed spiritual.

“I am here on a journey that is our journey, all of us together in this brief, fragile moment that God gives us on earth to make a difference,” he told them, without explicitly asking for their help in November. “And this is our journey, not my journey.”

“I come here this morning to praise His name,” he later told the congregation.

The minister took the opportunity to remind his congregation of his emphatic opposition to abortion.

“I am against abortion,” Mr. Clarke shouted to much agreement from the congregation. “Abortion is horrific, it’s horrendous, it is tragic, and it is terrible.”

Mr. Kerry has drawn intense criticism from opponents for his pro-choice stance, which includes opposition to a ban on partial-birth abortion and a requirement that teens get parental consent before having an abortion.

Sensitive to the issue, which could erode his support among Catholics and others here, Mr. Kerry recently said he believed that the life of a fetus “begins at conception,” but still supports abortion rights.

Mr. Clarke, noting how social issues such as abortion and homosexual “marriage” sometimes dominate elections, said it’s wrong “to act like the only sin is the sin of abortion.”

After church, Mr. Kerry attended a “front porch” political rally, where supporters of Mr. Kerry and supporters of President Bush squeezed together in a tight scrum in front of television cameras. He reached one yard, a microcosm of the United States and Ohio today: There were both Bush and Kerry supporters in it.

Mr. Kerry leaned over the private hedge to shake hands with each one of them. He shook hands with one of the Bush supporters, wished him luck and asked him to consider something other than just the deep principles that frame social issues such as abortion or homosexuality.

“Good luck to you, too,” said the Republican, shaking Mr. Kerry’s hand while still holding his Bush sign.

“Thank you,” Mr. Kerry said as he walked away, adding: “I can put more money in your pocket than the other guy will.”

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