- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Democratic officials yesterday praised presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s call to support tax cuts for the middle class, saying it was essential to broaden the party’s support in next year’s elections.

“We should talk about what we are for. I don’t think we as Democrats should be running against tax cuts. I agree with what he’s talking about,” said Randy Button, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

In an economic policy speech Wednesday night in Dover, N.H., Mr. Kerry said the Democrats cannot afford to be against all of President Bush’s tax cuts and spoke out in favor of the Bush administration’s tax cuts.

Kerry campaign aides said the speech was aimed at former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, the Massachusetts Democrat’s chief rival for the party’s presidential nomination, who has called for repealing all of the Bush tax cuts. The senator’s advisers said such a stance would further alienate middle class voters who will be a pivotal voting block in the 2004 elections.

Mr. Kerry said he supported Mr. Bush’s plan to eliminate the marriage penalty for two-earner married couples, doubling the child tax credit for families and the reduced income-tax rates for workers in the bottom and middle income brackets.

“Real Democrats don’t walk away from the middle class,” he said.

Democratic state party chairmen from across the country said Mr. Kerry’s position is strongly supported by the party’s grass roots.

“I think we have lost middle class support and what Kerry is saying is fairly consistent with the Democratic Leadership Council thinking and what Bill Clinton represented with his message as a New Democrat,” said Joe Irwin, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

“Most Democrats in this state are working class families. [His message] is going to resonate with a good many Democrats here,” he said.

Jim Pederson, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said he agrees with Mr. Kerry, adding “Who can argue with doing away with the marriage penalty for working couples?

“Any benefits that we grant through a tax cut should go to the middle class,” Mr. Pederson said.

Mike Skinner, the Louisiana Democratic chairman, said Democrats in his state support the tax cuts that Mr. Kerry embraced in his speech.

“I think anything that reinforces our commitment to the middle class is important for the party. I don’t think we should eliminate all of the tax cuts [as Mr. Dean has proposed] but target them to put money into the hands of working families that need it most and that will boost the economy,” he said.

But other Democrats, especially Mr. Dean’s supporters, questioned how much the debate over the president’s tax cuts would matter in next year’s presidential elections.

“I think that Bush’s fate will be determined by the economy and the war rather than the debate over tax cuts,” said Mark Gersh, chief election analyst at the National Committee for an Effective Congress.

“Some of the candidates want to rescind all of the tax cuts and some want to rescind part of them. That’s the fight. There is obviously a real divide there. But what unites Democrats will be the overall economic program rather than the tax cuts.”

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