BOSTON - At breakfast here last week, former House Speaker Tom Foley forecast one certain outcome in America's 2004 presidential campaign - hilarious mispronunciations of Northwest names.

Network correspondents will report on candidate visits to "SpoKANE," or rallies at the airport in "YaKIMA."

Viewers will watch as unrehearsed cable TV anchorpeople reach the word "Puyallup."

Why will we hear of these places on shows aired out of New Yawk City and the other Washington? Small and midsize cities along with blue-collar voters are going to be intensely fought over. And we are a battleground state.

President Bush swamped Al Gore by a 60-40 ratio in 2000 in cities with populations of 50,000 or less.

Wasn't always so. In 1948, President Harry Truman whistle-stopped through Eastern Washington. He boasted that Democrats had built Grand Coulee Dam and charged that Republicans would turn the inland West back into a "wilderness area."

The slogan "Give 'Em Hell, Harry!" may have gotten its birth in Bremerton as a listener reacted to stinging oratory from the underdog president.

The electorate has been transformed. Today, Democrats are championing creation of wilderness areas. Four years ago, a clever Republican campaign linked the Dems with a campaign by environmental groups to breach four Snake River dams to assure salmon survival. The GOP piled up huge margins in Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon.

A memorable George Bushism came during a Spokane rally, when the GOP nominee declared his unalterable opposition to removing dams from "the river on the Snake."

Not only have Democrats been losing - big -- east of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. Republicans have won in places carried even by Lonesome George McGovern in 1972.

The 3rd District in southwest Washington went for Bush in 2000. So did Oregon's 4th District, home to such timber towns as Springfield and Coos Bay.

Gore carried both states, courtesy of big victory margins in urban Seattle and Portland and the cities' surrounding suburbs.

The Democrats are vowing to take back lost ground. "It is true, particularly in union households, that we have to do better," said Greg Rodriguez, John Kerry's coordinator in Washington. "We anticipate John Edwards is going to be visiting those mill towns and making an incredible impact," added Paige Richardson, the Oregon coordinator.

The Dems will hit hard at loss of manufacturing jobs, "something seen more in the Northwest than in the rest of the country," according to top Kerry adviser Michael Meehan.

They're also planning to deploy Edwards in rural areas and to send such surrogates as Gen. Wesley Clark to Eastern Washington. Bill Clinton carried Spokane and the 5th Congressional District in 1992. Democrats have fielded a marquee House candidate in the 5th, retired WestCoast Hotels Chairman Don Barbieri.

Republicans are responding with what became a familiar Kerryism during the Democrats' nomination battle: "Bring 'em on."

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., charges that Kerry and Edwards are "trying to destroy the jobs of Oregon and Washington mill-workers" by opposing Bush administration plans for logging in national forests.

Still, the Bush administration has answering to do. Only a major outcry by veterans groups prevented it from shutting down a veterans hospital in Walla Walla that serves a three-state area.

The Republicans warned Tri-Cities voters in 2000 that the Fast Flux Test Facility - an experimental nuclear breeder reactor - would never again operate if Democrats won. The Bush administration then proceeded to permanently shut it down.

Republicans appear nervous about their heartland.

Vice President Dick Cheney did a fund-raiser last Monday in Kennewick and returned Friday for rallies in Yakima and Medford.

© 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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