- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry yesterday attacked President Bush’s policies, essentially ignoring the Democratic primary rivals he has left behind in the polls and signaling the start of his general election campaign.

At several events across the state, Mr. Kerry avoided much of the “red meat” partisan rhetoric usually heard during primary campaigns and argued that his decorated military career makes him the perfect candidate to challenge the president on national security issues.

Mr. Kerry beckoned Mr. Bush to “bring it on” at a rally in Clarmont last night and said he would love to have next year’s election be all about national security, an issue that often drives voters to the Republican Party.

“I know something about aircraft carriers for real,” Mr. Kerry boomed, taking a swipe at Mr. Bush’s landing on an aircraft carrier last year to mark the end of major operations in Iraq.

The latest polls of New Hampshire primary voters show Mr. Kerry pulling away from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and the rest of the candidates since his Iowa caucuses victory. A poll conducted by University of New Hampshire shows Mr. Kerry with 37 percent support and Mr. Dean following with 19 percent.

“I don’t think they’re going to stop Kerry now,” said Stan Shea at a town hall gathering of veterans.

Support for former Army Gen. Wesley Clark — who last week surged in the polls here — appears to have leveled off at about 20 percentage points behind Mr. Kerry as Tuesday’s primary approaches.

Arnie Arnesen, a New Hampshire political radio host, yesterday marveled at Mr. Kerry’s turnaround — saying that in less than two weeks Mr. Kerry’s campaign has gone from a “majestic disappointment” to a seemingly unbeatable force.

“People never stopped liking John Kerry,” Ms. Arnesen said. “He just wasn’t their first choice for president” until Iowa voters began wondering about Mr. Dean’s ability to run against Mr. Bush.

“He should kiss Howard Dean,” she said.

Indeed, Mr. Kerry’s refound confidence on the campaign trail is nearly palpable.

At a veterans rally in Manchester yesterday, Mr. Kerry, told the crowd that the Veterans Administration turns away veterans for lack of money.

“We have money for tax cuts for people who earn more than $200,000 a year, but we don’t have the money for our veterans,” Mr. Kerry said to “amen” from the crowd.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, this campaign is about making it clear that the first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of our country.”

Yet despite all the talk of war, Mr. Kerry never mentioned his deep dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.

Mr. Kerry looked no different than before his surprise Iowa victory yesterday — nattily dressed in a designer suit — but he is not so much “French looking” anymore as he is presidential, observers say.

“I think people are beginning to see he’s really a common, caring man,” Connie Dumont, 66, said at a campaign stop. “I don’t think you have to be born poor to help people.”

Meanwhile in Londonderry, Mr. Dean worked his new stump speech that is one part confessional (“I’m not a perfect man”), one part explanation (“I am passionate, but we can’t beat Bush without some intensity”), and a heavy dose of New England populism (“I speak from my heart, not my head”).

Woven throughout Mr. Dean’s revised campaign is criticism of his opponents. He claims he is the political outsider to their Capital Beltway-insider resumes.

“Listen, to what they say. ‘You can have middle-class tax cuts. You can have health care for every American,’” Mr. Dean told the crowd here. “You believe that?” In Nashua, N.H., he said voters want “a candidate who will tell the truth.”

The rest of the candidates spent the day campaigning across New Hampshire.

Mr. Clark was joined by actor Ted Danson, while Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina spent part of the day campaigning in South Carolina, which holds its primary one week from Tuesday and is crucial to Mr. Edwards’ campaign.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, who lags seriously in the polls, spent a harried day all over the state talking about health care and other issues.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign got more good news yesterday with the endorsement of former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, the Democratic Party’s 1984 presidential nominee defeated overwhelmingly by Ronald Reagan. He also tried to curry favor among independents by declining to rule out including Sen. John McCain, a Republican, on his ticket.

At the veterans rally, Mr. Kerry was accompanied by two decorated former military men as images of Mr. Kerry’s time in Vietnam flashed on the screen with machine-gun fire slashing through the water near a jungle riverbank.

The campaign released a letter Mr. Kerry wrote to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warning that thousands of soldiers on active duty must wait for health care, even as the largest rotation of U.S. forces is under way.

“There is nothing more important than the care and well-being of our troops,” Mr. Kerry said in the letter. “They have earned this care and we must not fail them.”

Mr. Shea, a longtime Kerry supporter and veteran of the Korean War, thinks veterans could be better cared for but doesn’t share his party’s platform on the Iraq war.

“Am I sorry we’re over there fighting? No, I’m not,” he said. “I support the war,” though he wishes more countries were involved.

In fact, Mr. Shea said, if Howard Dean were to win the his party’s nomination, he’d probably vote for Mr. Bush.

Mr. Kerry was joined on stage by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost his seat in the 2002 election. Both men have endorsed Mr. Kerry.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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