When it comes to this presidential campaign few states are getting more attention than Ohio. The "buckeye" state is such a key battleground that the candidates are making personal appearances, lots of them. More than 40 so far this year, in public parks, hotels, churches, arenas, even a neighborhood cul-de-sac. The state capital, Columbus has seen half a dozen visits in recent weeks. And as Tamara Keith reports, voter fatigue is starting to set in.
Barbara Bucklad and her husband are eating dinner at Stan's Restaurant in Columbus. The smoke-filled family eatery is the kind of place where regulars eat homemade pie and talk politics with the waitresses?and it's just around the corner from a recent John Kerry campaign event. For the Bucklads and virtually all Ohioans the presidential race has become an unavoidable reality on TV, in the newspaper, and even on the open road. A few weeks ago the couple was driving along a highway in eastern Ohio when they saw two campaign busses going in opposite directions, one for President Bush, the other for senator Kerry. Barbara Bucklad says she's fed up with all the campaigning.
"I think they need to stop coming and just let the people vote for who they want to vote for and that's it," she says. "They come too often it's not going to make any difference."
Sitting in a nearby booth, a grandmother named Martha Steward says this year's election got too intense too soon.
"It's just like Christmas, they start so soon and the politicians start so soon," she adds. "You know, give us a break."
That break isn't likely to come before November. Recent polls find President Bush and Senator Kerry so close in Ohio that either candidate's temporary lead is within the margin of error.
For frequently-visited cities, like Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, being the center of attention is also getting expensive. Although the campaigns pay most expenses such as rental fees for the site, decorations and lunch for the press corps, cities are on their own when it comes to the most expensive item: security.
"A weekend visit by a presidential candidate could end up costing somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 in overtime," says Barb Seckler, the assistant safety director for the city of Columbus.
So far this year, Columbus has spent more than $100,000 on campaign-related police work. Ms. Seckler says each visit becomes a major production.
"Air space over the airport is impacted, the traffic when the motorcade travels from the airport to their destination can include streets being closed, traffic being stopped for short periods of time and then the exact same thing is going to go on to the next destination or back to the airport to make sure the candidate gets safely off," she adds.
"At times it can be kind of stressful," says Sergeant Joe Cermode.
He has only been with the Columbus police department's motorcycle unit since June and he's already provided security for three campaign visits. He says it's exciting to protect a presidential candidate, a thrill he doubts will ever wear off. But sometimes, Sergeant Cermode says, the public does get a little testy.
"It can be an aggravation to some of the motorists who don't know that the president or vice president or some dignitary is coming through town," he explains. "It can be upsetting to them sometimes because they have to wait for 10 or 15 minutes until the motorcade passes. But we try to minimize that."
For most city and state officials, however, the traffic snarls and overtime costs don't overshadow the benefits that come from such visits like the free publicity that comes from having the national spotlight focused here in Ohio.
"You might even get the attention of a person who either is or will be the president of the United States and they know that Ohio is important to their future and so they try to do some things that will garner the attention of Ohioans and that can be a good thing," says Bruce Johnson, the state's development director.
Back at Stan's Restaurant, manager Mary Clotts is pretty sure she failed to get the attention of Senator Kerry. When her restaurant catered his event, she gave a campaign staffer a menu hoping to get the candidate's autograph, but she hasn't seen that menu since.
"We're indifferent. If we get it [the autograph] we get it, if we don't we don't," she says.
Ms. Clotts needn't lose hope. If the campaign schedule keeps up its current pace, only a week or two will go by before the Senator appears in the state again, and he might just bring that menu with him.