- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

From combined dispatches

MINNEAPOLIS — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry yesterday formally commenced his campaign for the veterans’ vote, as a recent poll of veterans show they solidly support President Bush.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign has organized volunteer veterans coordinators in all 50 states, who will try to recruit current and former soldiers to his campaign. The goal is to sign up 1 million veterans to help get out the vote for Mr. Kerry in what the campaign said would be an unprecedented veterans organization in a presidential campaign.

“We’re here because we understand that what we fought for is still at risk,” Mr. Kerry said during a rally at the University of Minnesota.

“We’re here because we know that the story of America is an evolving story and that every generation gets its opportunity to be able to write a part of our history. We’re here because, right now, this country needs to be put back on track, to change direction and begin to work again for everybody.”

John Hurley, Mr. Kerry’s national veterans director, says veterans will be motivated to vote for Mr. Kerry because of his Vietnam War experience, their anger at diminished services from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq.

“I think veterans are really uneasy, particularly Vietnam vets have a haunting sense of deja vu,” Mr. Hurley, who was an Army lieutenant in Vietnam, said aboard Mr. Kerry’s campaign plane. “John Kerry is going to get the veteran vote. Even if it has been Republican in the past, we are going to carry it.”

Mr. Bush got 54 percent of the veterans’ vote in a CBS News poll while Mr. Kerry had the support of 40 percent. An estimated 26.4 million people, or better than one in seven voting-age Americans, have served in the U.S. military, according to 2000 Census figures analyzed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans are more likely than other voters to approve of how the president is handling both Iraq and the overall war on terror, 47 percent and 65 percent respectively. Overall, 34 percent of voters support Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq and 51 support his handling of the war on terror.

In a two-way matchup in the poll, conducted May 20 to 23, Mr. Kerry was ahead 49 percent to 41 percent among all voters.

The Bush campaign also has a band of volunteers to seek out veterans. Retired Lt. Col. Joe Repya said veterans are concerned about Mr. Kerry’s votes to cut military pay and weapons systems and against funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during his nearly 20-year Senate career.

“I think most vets understand this election is not about Vietnam,” said Col. Repya, who served 18 years in the Army Reserves and 10 years on active duty, including tours in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. “This election is about who can win the war on terror.”

Col. Repya, who organized a Bush rally yesterday at the same University of Minnesota campus where Mr. Kerry is speaking, said veterans are offended by the “shameful way that Kerry demagogues older veterans by saying that Mr. Bush cut their benefits.”

Mr. Kerry yesterday repeated his criticisms that veterans aren’t getting the medical and other federal services they earned under Mr. Bush.

“You can’t run around the country talking about patriotism and the flag and service to nation and willfully turn your back on the very people that you’ve asked to go do that and serve,” Mr. Kerry said during a conference call.

The Bush administration has increased benefits, veterans’ enrollment in VA health care and spending overall for that department, but also has found places in the system to save money. In one, the government barred new enrollment of higher-income veterans in the VA health care system unless their medical problems were directly related to their military service.

The Kerry campaign is investigating how photos of Texas war veterans were obtained for a television commercial in possible violation of copyright laws.

The commercial featured 16 photos, including 15 that appeared in “South Texas Heroes,” a book published by the Corpus Christi, Texas, Caller-Times last year in honor of Coastal Bend veterans.

The man hired to produce the commercial for the Kerry campaign, Armando Gutierrez of Corpus Christi, issued an apology yesterday in an advertisement to the Caller-Times.

The Kerry campaign contacted at least one veteran who did not give permission to use his photo. The campaign was apologizing by phone to other veterans or their family members who were upset about being included in the ad.

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