During the 2004 election campaign, Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland campaigned for John Kerry as one of the surrogate attack dogs who participated in one of Kerry’s most disastrous campaign appearances Sept. 4, 2004, in what at the time was called the “Steubenville Meltdown.”
Ted Strickland’s role that day was to take the podium for Kerry to unleash questions to attack President Bush about his Vietnam service in the Texas Air National Guard. Kerry at that point in his losing campaign was struggling to counter the charges the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth had launched in “Unfit for Command,” the book swift boat veteran John O’Neill and I co-authored.
The “meltdown” was caused by a Kerry campaign miscalculation that the presidential candidate would receive an overwhelmingly positive reception from Steubenville’s Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by as many as 5-to-1 in this union steel town on the Ohio River adjoining Pennsylvania. Steubenville, Ohio, famed as the birth site of singer Dean Martin, had fallen on hard times given increasing international competition from foreign steel since the 1980s. Kerry’s campaign had counted on a large blue-collar union turnout in the traditionally Democratic town.
Unfortunately, Kerry’s campaign scheduled the visit on a day when Steubenville’s Catholic college, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, was in session.
On that cool, rainy day, a group of some 400-500 Franciscan University students and faculty arrived to protest Kerry and were joined by another group of some 400-500 local Bush supporters who carried Bush-Cheney signs. Total attendance at the rally was estimated at around 3,500 people. The anti-Kerry protest in Steubenville turned out to be one of the largest of the 2004 campaign.
The protest was organized by Catholics for Life, a group formed by Franciscan University student Gabriel Hahn who led the protest march from the university campus to the rally at Old Fort Stevens.
Local Catholic churches throughout the Diocese of Steubenville, including several priests and nuns, took part in the protest against Kerry. Despite objections from the Kerry team, local police admitted the Catholics for Life protesters to the rally, lining them up behind a fence barrier hastily made up for the occasion out of metal bicycle racks.
Bush-Cheney signs were held up among the crowd, side-by-side with Kerry supporters who held up their Kerry-Edwards signs in an attempt to block out Bush supporters from view of the press.
The Catholic university protesters were armed with printed signs that read “You Cant be Catholic & Pro-Abortion,” “To Be Catholic Is To Be Pro-Life,” and hand-printed homemade signs that carried the same message, “John Kerry: You Can’t Be Both Catholic and Pro-’Choice’” and “Protect Our Families.”
When Kerry, Rep. Strickland and former Sen. John Glenn got out of the Kerry-Edwards “A Stronger America” red, white and blue bus after pulling up to the rally, Kerry was visibly shaken and angry at the vocal presence of the protesters.
When Glenn moved to the microphone to introduce Kerry, one of the Franciscan College faculty yelled “Go Back to the Moon!” supported by a loud cheer from the protesters.
When it came his turn, Strickland, congressman from Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District, which includes Steubenville, lashed out at President Bush, introducing Kerry as a man who was carrying guns through the jungles of Vietnam while George Bush was neglecting his military service and carrying out his responsibilities as a cheerleader at Yale.
Ironically, this rhetoric was forgotten this year by Strickland, who toke offense in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign when the Ken Blackwell campaign raised issues of sexual misconduct concerning Strickland’s 1998 campaign manager and Strickland’s refusal to fire him.
A close look at Strickland’s 2006 campaign biography reveals no mention of any military service by the 65-year-old candidate, who was old enough to have served in the military during the Vietnam War.
Evidently, Strickland received a deferment from the draft for pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Although his campaign site lists Strickland as a former minister, there is no reference to any church that the congressman currently attends regularly.
On Oct. 21, 2004, with just 12 days remaining before the election, Strickland rejoined Kerry for their famous goose hunting photo-op, in which Strickland was photographed carrying game from the field, resting a shotgun on his shoulder triumphantly.
In this photo, Strickland, accompanied by a dog, leads Kerry out of the field. As far back as 1976, in his first unsuccessful attempt to run for Congress from Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District, Strickland has been quoted several times as saying he does not own a gun. The NRA scores Lee Fisher, Strickland’s running mate for lieutenant governor with an “F,” or failing grade, for his Second Amendment stance. Lee Fisher is known in Ohio for saying that he never met a gun control law that he didn’t like.