NILES, OHIO Sen. John Kerry commiserated with locked-out steelworkers protesting outside the gates of the RMI Titanium plant here Sunday, telling them he feels their pain as he continued to shift his campaign rhetoric from missteps in Iraq to economic issues.
"I'm sorry you're going through it but help is on the way -- with your help," Kerry said. "Give us a hand."
Kerry aides, believing the campaign gained momentum with last Thursday's first presidential debate, said they were changing the focus to what they consider vulnerabilities in President Bush's economic record. The two men are scheduled to debate Friday in St. Louis, in a format that allows audience members to pose questions, and domestic issues are expected to dominate the encounter.
The campaign has reshuffled its television-advertising lineup, replacing some older spots attacking Bush on Iraq with two new ads focusing on health care and job creation, painting the president as the champion of the "powerful and well-connected."
Polls taken after Thursday night's debate showed vast majorities thought Kerry won, and one survey released over the weekend showed that he had gotten a bump in the horse race. A Newsweek poll found Kerry leading Bush 47 percent to 45 percent among registered voters, erasing the president's lead found in pre-debate polls by the magazine.
Later, at a town-hall meeting in Austintown, Kerry said that the viability of the American Dream itself was at stake Nov. 2. "That dream is harder and harder for a bunch of people who play by the rules to be able to obtain," he said. "Everything is going up in America except the wages of Americans."
Bush was not on the campaign trail, but his campaign said that Kerry had made so many promises -- for tuition grants, health-care coverage and the like -- that he could not pay for just by eliminating tax cuts for those making over $200,000 a year, even if that were advisable.
"His plans for higher taxes and new spending will halt our economic growth and destroy jobs," said spokesman Steve Schmidt.