If John Kerry loses Michigan, he will probably blame it on his joke writers, then Woody Hayes and the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes. But he only has himself to blame. He should have used that several-decade gap between his job in Vietnam and his job of running for president boning up on his knowledge of sports. The Prowler has documented several examples thus far, and over weekend Kerry really goofed up.
To get his Ohio rallies up and rolling, Kerry used a set of jokes to open his events. In Bowling Green, his shtick went something like this:
"If you elect me and my running mate, John Edwards, we are going to give you the courageous leadership you need. We'll take the tough positions, the courageous positions, the tough stands. But there's one tough position I will not take: I am not going to choose between the Falcons and the Rockets" -- this is a local reference to the well-known rivalry between Bowling Green University and the University of Toledo.
"I will say this," he added. "There is nothing better than Buckeye football, period!"
Kerry used this set piece several times in Ohio, to great effect, never mind the waffling with the generality of "Buckeye" football. Was he talking Ohio State University specifically? Or just football in the state in general? Only Kerry knows.
But then Kerry dug a huge hole for himself. On Sunday and into Monday, Kerry hit Michigan, where he attempted to use the same Ohio jokes. Clearly, the sports humor has to be taken out of his hands before he really embarrasses himself.
"I just came here from Bowling Green," Kerry told the crowd to subdued applause. "I was smart enough not to pick a choice between the Falcons and the, well, you know, all those other teams out there. I just go for Buckeye football, that's where I'm coming from."
At that point, before all the boos began raining down upon him, Kerry seemed to realize his error. In an attempt to silent the angry crowd of University of Michigan supporters, Kerry said, "But that was while I was in Ohio. I know I'm in the state of Michigan and you got a great big M and a powerhouse of a team." Then his face, presumably, the Botox permitting, turned Big Blue.
Very briefly the Kerry campaign considered sending potential first lady Terry Kerry into New York on Monday to visit the New York Stock Exchange or the Citicorp building, both of which were under increased security due to potential terrorism threats.
"We nixed it when we realized she might actually have to interact with real people in an unstaged event," says a Kerry advance staffer. "It isn't something we're looking to do given the beating we've taken over the convention speech."
The Kerry camp is looking to pull Mrs. Kerry back after a slew of miscues, including what even the campaign now believes was a potentially disastrous convention speech for the woman who wants to be first lady. That was followed by Mrs. Kerry's claim that a cookie recipe submitted under her name to a "first lady bake off" contest organized by a national magazine was sent in by a possible political enemy.
Another under-reported event took place last weekend at the Wendy's in Ohio, where the Kerrys and Edwards "double dated" to celebrate the Edwards' wedding anniversary. Mrs. Kerry was unable to identify a single thing on the menu she was willing to eat, and ended up pointing at a picture of Wendy's chili. After much deliberation, that was what she chose to order.
For months there has been internal debate how best to use Terry Kerry in the campaign, and it now appears that the best way may be no way. "She's more willing to appear as the supportive wife than, say, Hillary was on the campaign trail," says the advance staffer. "But it's a limited upside for us. Unless it's in a real controlled setting, I don't think we want her out there too often."
In the end, First Lady Laura Bush showed up in Manhattan with her daughters and visited the Citicorp building without incident.
Controlled environments appear to be the norm for the Kerry camp nowadays. The Kerry campaign likes to tout attendance numbers at its rallies around the country. But those events are increasingly becoming stage-managed rallies, with in-sourced supporters. At recent events in Michigan and Ohio, the Kerry campaign has bused supporters as many as 150 miles to boost attendance. As in so many areas, the campaign is banking on organized labor to bump up the numbers. According to one attendee at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Monday, she was given part of the day off with pay from her union job to attend.