Continued from page 1

The Nixon administration responded by encouraging another Vietnam veteran, John O’Neill, to challenge Mr. Kerry to a public debate. White House tape recordings from the period reveal how President Nixon took a personal interest in discrediting Mr. Kerry by telling Mr. O’Neill to “give it to him” during the debate, which was watched by millions on Dick Cavett’s popular TV show.

After Mr. Kerry was elected to the Senate in 1984, he quickly won a reputation for being a thorn in the side of President Reagan. A year after arriving on Capitol Hill, Mr. Kerry teamed up with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, to investigate charges of cocaine and marijuana trafficking by anti-communist Nicaraguan “Contra” guerrillas backed by the CIA.

When Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a moderate Republican from Indiana who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, got behind Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dodd, their probe became a precursor to the Iran-Contra affair and revealed how Contra aid was being channeled to drug traffickers.

That Mr. Lugar and Mr. Kerry worked as bipartisan allies added legitimacy to Mr. Kerry’s record as an emerging foreign policy heavyweight. His admirers add that the Nicaragua investigation is just one of a string of foreign policy achievements that, over time, have won Mr. Kerry a unique kind of respect.

“He’s supremely experienced in having been head of this committee for so long and dealing with every conceivable issue,” said Winston Lord, who served as U.S. ambassador to China during Reagan’s second term and later as an assistant secretary of state under President Clinton.

In the latter position, Mr. Lord worked closely with Mr. Kerry, Mr. McCain and Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat — all three men Vietnam veterans — toward the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

“The three of them were Vietnam War heroes,” said Mr. Lord, adding that the bipartisan group overcame fierce resistance from some veterans groups at home to see the normalization through.

Kerry had the courage, as did McCain and the other Kerrey, to move ahead,” he said. “I saw firsthand his courage in standing up to these pressures and his intelligence and perspective.”

“I always saw him as a heavyweight.”