- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — John Kerry said yesterday he has more foreign policy experience than President Bush does, and he defended himself against Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticism for saying he would fight a more “sensitive” war on terror.

After a week’s pounding from the Republican ticket on Iraq and the war on terror, the Democratic presidential nominee, while answering questions from the 100 persons gathered at the middle of a cul-de-sac in this community, fired back on foreign policy.

“I believe I have more experience than my opponent in this area,” Mr. Kerry said, adding he has 35 years working on foreign policy, including his 20 years in the Senate as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“I’ve personally led efforts to change our policies with respect to other countries and have an impact on foreign policy,” he said as he wrapped up his two-week, coast-to-coast post-Democratic convention tour yesterday.

Mr. Bush mocked the senator at an event in Florida this week, accusing him of flip-flopping and taking nuanced positions on the war in Iraq and hinting he expects another flip-flop to come. Mr. Cheney, meanwhile, said this week that Mr. Kerry was wrong to say he would fight a “more sensitive” war on terror.

The Massachusetts Democrat had not responded in-depth personally until yesterday, when those at the neighborhood gathering got a chance to ask questions. When one man said he didn’t want to say the word “sensitive” in his question because “Bush has screwed that word up,” Mr. Kerry went straight at the vice president.

“Don’t for an instant be shy about using the word sensitive. I don’t think it’s very sensitive to have a vice president who has secret meetings with polluters that write the laws,” Mr. Kerry said. “I don’t think it’s very sensitive except for the wealthy to shift the tax burden to the average American.

“There are a whole bunch of things we can do better in America. I’m going to stand up for what’s right, and nobody’s going to change what’s right in my judgment,” he said. “You don’t speak your mind, you shouldn’t be president of the United States, and I intend to speak my mind.”

Bush supporters dogged Mr. Kerry, standing at the end of the street holding two large Bush campaign billboards and handmade signs that encouraged voters to “flush the Johns,” and argued that Mr. Kerry’s “secret plan” for handling Iraq is “run away, run away.”

Yesterday afternoon, hours after Mr. Bush appeared and spoke to hundreds of supporters in Portland, Ore., Mr. Kerry ended his cross-country tour with a final rally before a crowd estimated as high as 50,000 at Waterfront Park in the city.

He stood with “Titanic” actor Leonardo DiCaprio and rockers Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora from the band Bon Jovi, while Teresa Heinz Kerry told the audience “it is important to have a president who not only understands but enjoys complexity.”

Mr. Kerry stayed in Eugene, Ore., Thursday night, and ate at Marche restaurant, where he had duck foie gras and tuna and his wife had lamb and tomato salad. They dined with Jim Rassman, an Oregonian and the man who says Mr. Kerry saved his life by pulling him from the water during the Vietnam War.

Before opening the neighborhood gathering in Springfield to questions yesterday Mr. Kerry pointedly noted it would be “a real conversation, which is what I like to do. And there’s no question here that’s been scripted. I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen. And I look forward to that. I don’t think it should be scripted.

“I think Americans need a president who’s willing to talk to everybody — I don’t care if you’re Republicans, Democrats or independents,” he said.

Democrats have enthusiastically touted recent reports that the Bush campaign is requiring those who attend rallies and forums with the president to pledge to support the Bush campaign and, in the case of yesterday’s Portland event, work phone banks.

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