Sunday, February 27, 2000

Cincinnati turns out for McCain

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Whether buying kielbasa at a jam-packed West Side Market in Cleveland or signing more than 1,000 books in a Norwood bookstore, John McCain found plenty of signs Saturday that his campaign is catching fire in Ohio.

Hundreds gather around John McCain's bus as he steps off at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood.
(AP photo)
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Lori Karam of Mason holds a sign while waiting in line for McCain.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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McCain shakes hands with Robby Brill, 7, of Montgomery.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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McCain's wife, Cindy, also greets supporters.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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McCain shakes hands at Lunken Airport rally.
(AP photo)
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Candidate and wife say goodbye.
(AP photo)
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        “We can really pull this off,” the Arizona senator said as his campaign bus pulled into the parking lot of Joseph-Beth Booksellers late Saturday afternoon on the last leg of a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati campaign tour, 10 days before the March 7 Ohio primary.

        Mr. McCain gazed out the window at about 2,000 people who crowded into the Joseph-Beth lot. About half were buying his book, Faith of My Fathers, and would wait in a long line to have it autographed. The senator, locked in a struggle with George W. Bush for the GOP presidential nomination, told reporters on the bus the crowds “are getting bigger everywhere we go.”

        It was certainly the case Saturday, when the day-long McCain tour of Ohio started with a swing through the West Side Market, famed for its ethnic foods, fresh meats and produce, and a magnet for politicians looking for friendly crowds for generations.

        The West Side Market is always packed with people on a Saturday morning, and hundreds more came for a glimpse of the candidate who, with his victory in the Michigan primary last week, has turned the race for the nomination into a real contest.

        U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, the only major Ohio GOP figure to endorse Mr. McCain, was at his side all day.

        The crowds grew even bigger at midday in Columbus, when Mr. McCain arrived at St. John Arena on the Ohio State University campus for a raucous, hour-long “town hall” meeting with 2,000 people, most of them college students.

        Then Mr. McCain boarded his campaign bus, “The Straight Talk Express,” and headed for the Cincinnati event, where he was met about 5:40 p.m. by the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of the day.

        “I assure you, I'm going to stay here until every book is signed,” Mr. McCain told the crowd, shouting from the top of the stairway to the bookstore's second level, where a signing table was set up. At 8 p.m., Mr. McCain was still signing.

        Outside, meanwhile, dozens of supporters had their pictures taken next to the Straight Talk Express.

        One was Dale Adams, 49, a U.S. Army veteran from West Carrollton, Ohio. Mr. Adams served in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972 but says his support of Mr. McCain, a Navy pilot who was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for more than five years, goes beyond veterans' issues.

        “He wants to save Social Security; he wants to pay off the debt,” said Mr. Adams, who had two books signed by the senator. “You can tell he's presidential material.”

        Another Vietnam-era veteran, Ken Buscher, 47, of Fort Thomas, came with his wife, Barb.

        “If you are going to be commander-in-chief, you should be a veteran,” Mr. Buscher said. “I like his fiscal policy. He's honest. He's trustworthy.”

        A U.S. Marine in full dress uniform walked out of the bookstore as Esther Kelly, of Union, Ohio, approached the entrance carrying a sign that read: “Many gave their lives and limbs so you can vote. McCain for a change.”

        Mrs. Kelly's husband and four brothers served in World War II. Mr. McCain's story as a POW impresses her.

        “Anyone who can withstand that can do anything, including standing up to the Chinese,” she said.

        Everywhere Mr. McCain went on his Ohio tour, veterans were much in evidence — some wearing VFW or American Legion caps, some in the uniforms they had worn decades ago.

        “It would mean a lot to me to see somebody in the White House who honored what we all did,” said Norman Bastuber of Bay Village, Ohio, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, as Mr. McCain toured the West Side Market. “I've been waiting for a man like this to come along.”

        Inside the market, Mr. McCain stopped at baked-goods stands, an Asian spice shop and at Czuchraj Meats, where owners Jerry and Jill Chucray were there to meet him.

        “Sorry to mess with your Saturday business,” Mr. McCain said, as a crush of media and well-wishers pressed against the glass cases full of kielbasa, pork chops and corned beef.

        Mr. McCain whipped money out of his wallet and bought $20 worth of kielbasa, some long sticks of pepperoni and some beef jerky he said he would “take home to my kids. They love it.”

        Mr. DeWine plopped down his money for two pounds of Czuchraj bacon, prompting his colleague from Arizona to note that “Mike DeWine always brings home the bacon.”

        “We're used to politicians coming in here; it's fun,” Mr. Chucray said. “I remember the time my mom ran down the aisle, grabbed Teddy Kennedy and dragged him over here.”

        Outside the market, Mr. McCain told a crowd of about 500 supporters gathered on West 25th Street that, as president, he will “take the government out of the hands of the special interests and give it back to you.”

        “We are going to break the iron triangle of money, lobbyists and legislation,” said Mr. McCain, the Senate's leading advocate of campaign finance reform.

        Mr. McCain scoffed at criticism from the Bush camp that his primary victories so far have been due to Democrats and independents voting for him in Republican primaries.

        “I want anybody — Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, vegetarians,” Mr. McCain said. “Everybody is welcome in this crusade.

        “I'm like Luke Skywalker. We're still trying to get out of the Death Star. They're still shooting at us. But we"re still battling the forces of evil.”

        At Ohio State, Mr. McCain thanked Mr. DeWine for his support, saying the Ohio senator signed on the campaign “when I was at 3 percent in the polls and there was a 5 percent margin of error. Mike DeWine knew what he was doing. He should be on the Psychic Network.”

        During the question-and-answer period at St. John Arena, Mr. McCain was interrupted briefly by two students protesting his efforts to end a Navajo relocation program in his home state of Arizona.

        “They're with me everywhere,” Mr. McCain told the crowd. Then he turned to the protesters and asked them “why I never see any Native Americans protesting with you.”

        After the two-hours-plus book-signing session in Norwood, the McCain campaign caravan headed to Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, where another 800 local supporters waited to greet him.

        Mr. Bush is expected to make a campaign swing through Ohio, including a stop in Cincinnati, early this week. A McCain campaign spokesman said Saturday he wasn't sure if Mr. McCain would return to Ohio before March 7, when 13 states have primaries.

        Mark Curnutte contributed to this report.

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