- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is suddenly lurching further to the left in what is being called a politically calculated move to keep antiwar candidate Howard Dean from passing him in the pivotal New Hampshire presidential primary race.

The senator gambled on the about-face strategy last week as Mr. Dean closed in on the polls in New Hampshire, propelled by antiwar activists who are angry about Mr. Kerry’s support of the Iraq war. The shift has raised questions about Mr. Kerry’s credibility and unleashed a barrage of White House-initiated attacks from Republican leaders.

“It’s clear that Dean is getting uncomfortably close to Kerry and that Kerry is going after some of the antiwar, liberal Democrats and independents who have rallied around Dean because of his opposition to the war,” pollster John Zogby said.

Mr. Zogby said his latest poll in New Hampshire, which will hold the nation’s first presidential primary in January, showed Mr. Kerry running just 3 points ahead of Mr. Dean, a former Vermont governor, and thus statistically even.

“That’s too close and extremely uncomfortable for a front-runner like John Kerry,” Mr. Zogby said.

Three days after Mr. Kerry refused to answer a question on ABC’s “This Week” about whether President Bush misled the country on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — saying, “It would be irresponsible of me” to do so — the senator told an antiwar crowd in New Hampshire that Mr. Bush “misled every one of us.”

That flip-flop sparked a debate within Democratic circles about whether Mr. Kerry had hurt his candidacy by switching positions just to appeal to a major sector of his party’s political base that is likely to determine the winner in New Hampshire.

“It is unbelievable,” said an aide to one of Mr. Kerry’s other rivals who noted the long litany of statements the senator has made over the years in the Senate about Saddam Hussein “amassing a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.”

“We’re hoping that Kerry and Dean knock each other out,” said a spokesman for another rival who said he hoped his candidate would come in “a strong third.”

Some of the rival camps worried that the feud between the two liberals could so eclipse the rest of the party’s field of candidates that it would push the party’s image further to the left and leave the middle ground for Mr. Bush to pick up in 2004.

Mr. Kerry’s switch on Iraq also drew a sharp condemnation from the Bush campaign through the Republican National Committee, that in effect called the senator a hypocrite.

“Seeking to appeal to the most liberal wing of his party, [Kerry] leveled, as he put it, an irresponsible charge. Rebutting Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Dick Gephardt, Kerry adopted the rhetoric of Democrats such as Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Carol Mosley-Braun,” said Ed Gillespie, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Last week the RNC circulated a long list of Kerry statements in the Congressional Record going back to 1990 that denounced Iraq and Saddam Hussein for having “developed a chemical weapons capability” and for “pursuing a nuclear weapons development program.”

Some Democrats privately wondered whether Mr. Kerry had committed a major tactical blunder in his move to reach out to Mr. Dean’s antiwar supporters, who have catapulted the once little-known candidate into the top tier of presidential aspirants.

“I don’t think it’s a blunder. I think it’s calculated. It remains to be seen whether it works or not,” Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. Kerry’s move to kick his campaign into higher gear comes on the heels of a weeklong series of investigative articles in his hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, that raised questions about his character and honesty as an elected official over the years. Some of Mr. Kerry’s political allies called the series “brutal” and “overkill” yesterday but said they do not think the articles would hurt him and could help him in the long run.

“It’s better to get all this stuff out there now, so six months down the road if this comes up again, they can say it’s old news. In that sense it will help him,” said a senior aide to a top Senate Democrat.

Mr. Kerry has been attempting during the past two years to soften his record as one of the Senate’s most liberal lawmakers, reaching out to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and seeking its advice on policy matters. His speeches have lately been emphasizing the need for Democrats “to have a strong, clear policy on defense and keeping America safe.”

But even the DLC appeared to be parting company with Mr. Kerry last week on his “he misled every one of us” attack on the president.

“If the Bush administration was wrong about Saddam’s [weapons of mass destruction] program, so, too, was just about everybody else, including U.N. inspectors, the French, the Germans, the Russians, and the Chinese, all of whom accepted prior evidence of such a program as beyond doubt,” the DLC said in a memo June 16.

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