Taking Pot Shots

Some mornings, it just doesn’t get any easier than this. Assignment: Cover a photo-op. One so stuffed with over-the-top imagery that it’s hard to know if you’re on a movie set or the campaign trail with less than two weeks left in one of the tightest presidential elections in history.

John Kerry went goose-hunting yesterday and, as The New York Times’ Jodi Wilgoren reported, “emerged from an eastern Ohio cornfield … with four dead geese and an image his aides hope will help shore up his macho bona fides among rural voters.”

Thirty-five photographers were on hand to catch the triumphal exit from the cornfield, wrote the New York Post’s Deborah Orin. “Reporters were barred from watching Kerry actually fire his gun on the farm, where decoys that look like Canada geese were set out to lure hungry real geese.”

With Ohio, and other hunter-rich states still up for grabs, the two-hour event (goose apparently guaranteed) was designed to counter an elitist image created by some other Kerry photo-ops (the famous windsurfing footage and the Democratic senator’s schussing down the Idaho slopes). It was, instead, as the Melbourne, Australia, Herald Sun quipped a “Hunt for the Bloke Vote.”

Kerry and his media entourage weren’t the only ones to have a field day yesterday. The four-man choreographed expedition into the cornfields, accompanied by a yellow Lab called Woodstock, gave George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney more ammo than any of the goose-hunters.

“He can run, even in camo, but he cannot hide,” retorted the president, who got some unexpected new material for his stump speech.

Cheney, also in Ohio, went even further, according to Wilgoren:

“The Second Amendment is more than just a photo opportunity,” said Mr. Cheney, whose own celebrated duck hunting trip this year — with Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court — was not open to news photographers.

“I understand he bought a new camouflage jacket for the occasion, which did make me wonder how regularly he does go goose hunting,” Mr. Cheney said to a chorus of boos. “My personal opinion is his new camo jacket is an October disguise, an effort he’s making to hide the fact that he votes against gun-owner rights at every turn.”

While the national media and the Republicans were honking and flapping over the trip, Kerry handlers were far more concerned about how the event played in Ohio, where sportsmen represent a huge voting bloc, as Bloomberg News reported. About 30 percent of Ohio sportsmen remain undecided, according to one survey.

And for everybody else, the goose chase also gave the late-night comedians their own opportunities to take pot shots. According to David Letterman, “John Kerry went duck hunting and he’s doing that to fulfill his campaign pledge to hunt down the ducks and kill them wherever they are!”

Susan Q. Stranahan

Update: In fact, as the Washington Post reported, Kerry borrowed the camouflage jacket. He did not buy a new one as Vice President Cheney indicated.

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.