- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said he will take the first step toward a 2004 presidential campaign this week by forming an exploratory committee.
"I've made a decision to file a committee. I'm going to file this week an exploratory committee, a formal committee, and I'm going to begin the process of organizing a national campaign," Mr. Kerry, 58, announced yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"It's an enormous step. And it's not one I take lightly," he said. "Obviously, the formal announcement of candidacy is down the road some months but I've got to do this work to make that happen."
Mr. Kerry also said he would oppose further tax cuts. "I would not give any new Bush tax cuts. We simply cannot afford it," he said. He acknowledged it will be an "uphilll battle" to stop tax cuts, as Republicans now control both houses of Congress.
Mr. Kerry challenged the Bush administration's contention that failing to provide a promised tax cut is the same as raising taxes. He also said he would favor giving a tax break now in the form of a "payroll-tax refundable credit" to "help move our economy forward" and benefit the middle class, not "wealthy" Americans.
The senator and his wife, Teresa, heiress to the Heinz fortune, have decided against using their own money, which totals in the hundreds of millions, to fund a campaign. Mrs. Kerry was the wife of Sen. John H. Heinz III, Pennsylvania Republican, who was killed in a 1991 plane crash.
Mr. Kerry has more than $3 million in Senate election campaign funds he could tap for a presidential effort, associates say.
Exploratory committees are established for prospective candidates to raise money, finance travel around the country and test voter support.
"When you really get into the formal stage, which I am now entering, you find out who's prepared to be there. You see if you can raise the money, and it becomes real. And that's one of the reasons why I made the decision I wanted to do it, and do it now," Mr. Kerry told "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert.
The 2004 presidential campaign is expected to draw a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls, although Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is the only declared candidate so far.
A poll of various Democratic contenders by The Washington Post found support for Al Gore, the nominee in 2000, at 49 percent; Sen. Joeseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut at 10 percent; Mr. Kerry and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, each at 6 percent; House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri at 4 percent; Al Sharpton, 3 percent; and Mr. Dean and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, each with 1 percent.
Mr. Kerry said yesterday he was encouraged by those figures, given Mr. Gore's celebrity, Mr. Lieberman's run for vice president in 2000 and the fact that Mr. Daschle has been Senate majority leader. All have had "enormous exposure," he said. And low rankings early in presidential polls hold little significance, he noted.
A member of the Senate since 1984, Mr. Kerry has been Massachusetts' junior senator throughout that period. Both he and the state's senior senator, Edward M. Kennedy, are liberal Democrats.
The next Democratic presidential nominee will likely face President Bush, who proved the political power of his popularity in last month's midterm elections. Mr. Bush's campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates was seen as a key reason his party regained control of the Senate and strengthened its majority in the House.
Asked why he is running, Mr. Kerry said yesterday: "I think the country is in a very different place than many people in Washington think it is, and certainly than the administration believes it is.
"I think there's a deep anxiety in the American people about security, and they put it all under the word 'security': job security, income security, retirement security, health security, physical, personal security, and, of course, national security," the senator said, adding: "On almost every issue facing the country, I think there's a better choice for this nation."
A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, Mr. Kerry became a major opponent of that war.
"We have to do more today than just focus on the war on terrorism," he said yesterday.
Mr. Kerry made it clear he still has reservations about a war with Iraq if the United States lacks international support. "The United States should not go to war because it wants to. It should go to war because it has to. I'd not be willing to support the president [in unilateral action against Iraq] if it's just for regime change," he said.
He also cited new reports indicating it would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion if the United States proceeds unilaterally.
Given the sad state of the economy, the cost of the war on terrorism and the possibility of a war with Iraq, Mr. Kerry said it doesn't make sense to "tie up money for 10 years" for the Bush tax cuts. He said that money should be going to provide universal health care; improve education and the environment; become energy self-sufficient; and develop a high-speed rail system.
Asked to explain his opposition to the death penalty, Mr. Kerry said he believes life imprisonment is a far tougher punishment than death. But he said he is for the death penalty for terrorists.

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