- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003


Sen. John Kerry’s speech announcing the formal start of his Democratic presidential bid marks a pivotal moment for the campaign, and he worked on the speech until the last minute, exposing divisions within his team on the campaign’s direction.

Once considered the front-runner, the Massachusetts senator trails former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in New Hampshire and is bunched at the top of the field with Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and Mr. Dean in Iowa.

Mr. Dean has gained traction with his anti-Washington establishment campaign, which has proven costly for lawmakers such as Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gephardt.

The Dean surge has revealed a split among Mr. Kerry’s advisers, with some aides calling for aggressive tactics, while others urge caution, fearing that harsh attacks would alienate the new voters Mr. Dean has attracted to the Democratic Party.

Critics, including some prominent Democrats, have argued that Mr. Kerry needs to change his approach to counter the ex-governor’s rise in the polls.

Kerry aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the candidate was more involved in the crafting of the speech, which would reflect his personal view on the campaign’s direction. Some of Mr. Kerry’s critics have said the campaign is bloated with too many aides and advisers.

The Massachusetts senator launches a high-profile swing formally announcing his campaign for the Democratic nomination today, and that closely watched speech likely will signal who has won the internal campaign debate.

The choice Mr. Kerry faces is similar to what former Vice President Al Gore had to deal with before the 2000 election. Mr. Gore relocated his campaign to Nashville, Tenn., and pared back his staff when his campaign faltered early. After losing the New Hampshire Republican primary to Arizona Sen. John McCain, candidate George W. Bush switched his message 180 degrees.

At the center of Mr. Kerry’s claim for the nomination is that his decorated Vietnam War-hero past gives him credibility beyond any other Democratic candidate in challenging Mr. Bush’s national security record. Some aides argued for him to broaden that theme. It was certain to be the centerpiece of his announcement.

Mr. Kerry was scheduled to deliver his speech against the backdrop of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in the harbor at Charleston, S.C. At his side would be members of the gunboat crew he commanded in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

While Mr. Kerry voted last October to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, he has been critical of Mr. Bush’s handling of the conflict, particularly for failing to enlist enough help from other nations.

In recent weeks, Mr. Kerry has moved to spell out his positions on issues ranging from health care to the economy to protecting veterans, but he was reserving his high-profile announcement swing for an “overarching vision” of where he would take the country, aides said.

After South Carolina, where Democrats vote in the third week of the nominating season, Mr. Kerry was headed to Iowa, where precinct caucuses occur Jan. 19. On the second day of his announcement swing, Mr. Kerry heads to New Hampshire, which has set its primary for Jan. 27, before heading home to Boston and a hometown rally.

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