- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

CANTON, Ohio — President Bush yesterday said Sen. John Kerry would fail in his attempt to raise taxes on rich Americans because their accountants would deflect the tax burden onto the middle class.

“He said he’s only going to raise the tax on the so-called rich,” Mr. Bush told thousands of supporters in Stark County, a crucial Ohio swing district, “but you know how the rich [are]: They’ve got accountants.

“That means you pay,” he added. “That means your small business pays; it means the farmers and the ranchers pay. That’s the wrong medicine for this economy, and we’re not going to let him prescribe it.”

Kerry spokesman Phil Singer scoffed at Mr. Bush’s remarks.

“The president knows full well that John Kerry wants to cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans,” he said. “This is just another misleading assertion to distract attention from the real issues of this campaign, like health care.”

It was the president’s second consecutive day of aggressive campaigning in Ohio, which White House political strategist Karl Rove told The Washington Times is now more evenly divided than Florida.

“Ohio is a state that Democrats are going to focus more of their efforts on because they realize Florida is in much better shape for us than it was four years ago,” he said in an interview. “So they’ve got to find another opportunity.”

Mr. Singer said Mr. Rove should stick to running his own campaign and stop trying to analyze the Kerry effort.

“The Bush campaign has a habit of trying to play mind games with the press,” he said, citing recent Bush campaign comments on the Kerry campaign’s state-by-state advertising expenditures.

“Ohio clearly is one of the so-called battleground states that John Kerry and John Edwards have made very competitive,” Mr. Singer said. “We’re optimistic about winning the state.”

Though such states as Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin remain crucial, Ohio has emerged as perhaps the single most important key to the election, said Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush campaign.

“Ohio’s at the top of the list of the states that we really want to win,” he told the Times in the president’s motorcade. “You don’t have to win it, because you can accumulate electoral votes in other ways, but you really want to win it because it’s tight, it’s close and it’s got a large amount of electoral votes.”

Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican, has not been shy about reminding the president of the importance of Ohio’s 20 electoral votes.

“Every time I talk to him, he says: ‘You be thinking about Ohio, Mr. President,’” Mr. Bush remarked. “I said: ‘Don’t worry, Ohio is an important state, George.’”

He added: “I carried it last time. I intend to work hard to carry it this time.”

Having carried Stark County by a mere 2,845 votes in 2000, Mr. Bush is fighting for every vote in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

“People forget how close it was,” Mr. Dowd said of the state. “We won it by less than 4 percent, but we only had 50 percent of the vote here.”

He added: “In a race that could be decided by a few hundred votes, a precinct chair here or a volunteer there could make the difference.”

The Bush campaign has 53,156 volunteers in Ohio, including precinct chairmen in 7,500 of the state’s 11,000 precincts.

“We have a larger pool of volunteers than the Kerry campaign because we’ve been doing it for 12 months; we started a year earlier than we did in 2000,” Mr. Dowd said, “but they have a lot of paid staff put together by the 527s that are now here.”

He was referring to third-party advocacy groups that are spending millions to elect Mr. Kerry.

Ohio is not the only Rust Belt state Mr. Bush visited yesterday. He also rode his campaign bus into West Virginia and Pennsylvania, at one point coming within 25 miles of Mr. Kerry’s motorcade on Interstate 70 in Pennsylvania.

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