- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

WAUSAU, Wis. — Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, who has been a firm supporter of free-trade agreements during 20 years in Congress, is campaigning as a champion of labor and workers as he prepares to receive the AFL-CIO’s endorsement Thursday.

Mr. Kerry, who is expected to handily win Wisconsin’s Democratic primary today, began a four-day “dialogue with American workers” yesterday, calling job security, pensions and workers’ rights “the central issue of this campaign.”

“If your whole plan is just to give wealthy people a tax cut, and not to invest in the kinds of things I just described, we don’t have a prayer of changing things,” the senator from Massachusetts said after touring a technical college in Wausau.

Polls show Mr. Kerry is headed for a strong showing today. A Zogby/MSNBC/Reuters poll showed him with 47 percent support among likely Wisconsin voters, followed by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at 23 percent and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina at 20 percent.

Both Mr. Dean and Mr. Edwards have said they will continue their campaigns even if they don’t win here, but Mr. Dean’s campaign continues to suffer.

Mr. Dean yesterday told reporters that Steve Grossman is no longer his campaign chairman. Mr. Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told several news outlets over the weekend that he was going to throw his support behind Mr. Kerry if Mr. Dean didn’t win in Wisconsin.

In his own appearance in Wausau, Mr. Dean was asked why his campaign seemed lackluster.

“What happened to the tone?” one man asked during a question-and-answer period. “You’re almost overmoderated. You don’t wear that ugly gray suit anymore.”

Mr. Dean’s answer focused on the future.

“We’re going to change this country one way or the other. If I win the presidency, it’ll be a lot quicker,” he said.

He also returned to his campaign roots, attacking the Democratic Party itself, though his attack was harsher, including comments such as “the Democratic Party needed a spine transplant.”

Mr. Kerry continued to ignore his Democratic rivals, never referring to them in his hourlong town hall meeting.

Instead, he renewed his attack on President Bush, this time blasting him for traveling to Florida over the weekend for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 race.

“We don’t need a president who just says, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines.’ We need a president who says, ‘America, let’s start our economy and put people back to work,’” Mr. Kerry said.

“In the three hours it took to complete that race yesterday, we lost 350 manufacturing jobs. We added $178 million to the deficit of our nation, and 700 people lost their health insurance in the United States,” Mr. Kerry said. “This is not a time for photo opportunities.”

Mr. Kerry is proposing a review of all U.S. trade agreements in the first months of a Kerry administration, incentives to keep U.S. companies from going overseas, and a major jobs training initiative to help people who can’t find work.

Mr. Edwards, who with his South Carolina primary victory has won one of the 16 Democratic contests so far, appears to be the best situated to continue to the Super Tuesday primaries March 2.

He has begun to criticize Mr. Kerry, who captured 14 of the 16 nominating contests, for his past support of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I was against NAFTA,” Mr. Edwards told supporters in Appleton yesterday. “Governor Dean and Senator Kerry were for it. There are differences.”

He also promised to take the primary process “well into March” in order to point out those differences.

During his Senate tenure, Mr. Kerry supported NAFTA, permanent normal trade relations with China, granting the president fast-track trade negotiation authority and creation of the World Trade Organization.

But the Massachusetts Democrat began to sound a different tone earlier in the campaign, and with his campaign saying the AFL-CIO endorsement is looming, Mr. Kerry is making a major push to redefine himself.

In Sunday’s debate and again yesterday, he blamed Mr. Bush for the job losses from trade agreements. He reiterated yesterday his opposition to two other free-trade treaties being negotiated — one with Central American nations and one as part of the entire Western Hemisphere.

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