- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Sen. John Kerry secured enough delegates to become the Democratic presidential nominee last night with a win in the Illinois primary, and he began his general election campaign with a fund-raising plea to Democrats from former President Bill Clinton.

With 89 percent of Illinois precincts reporting last night, Mr. Kerry got 770,707 votes, or 72 percent, against token opposition.

The victory gave the Massachusetts senator commitments from 2,252 delegates — more than the 2,162 needed to gain the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer.

“This night marks the opening of the general election debate about the direction of our country,” Mr. Kerry said at a victory party in Charleston, W.Va., last night.

“We say thank you to Illinois for putting us over the top in the delegate count, and for helping us to achieve our goal,” he told his cheering supporters.

Although he did not mention President Bush by name, Mr. Kerry issued a broad criticism of the policies of “our leadership,” including “wasteful tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans,” a failure to solve the “health care crisis,” “reckless runaway deficits” and frayed U.S. relations with other nations.

Mr. Kerry, however, said that though there might be disagreement on those issues, “when it comes to protecting the security of our nation and winning the war on terror, America is unified.”

Some delegate-count estimates had given Mr. Kerry enough commitments from the voters at the convention to secure the nomination after the contests last week, but his camp wanted to be sure.

The Bush administration, though, dismissed Mr. Kerry’s attempt to start the campaign as old news.

“It seems like this is the third time that John Kerry has announced the start of his general election campaign,” a Bush campaign official said on the condition of anonymity. “After the last two weeks he’s had, there’s little question why he would want to do a do-over.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Kerry campaigned among veterans in West Virginia, telling them that he will be a “veteran’s veteran” and accusing the administration of credibility problems.

“The president is busy trying to blame everybody except his own administration,” Mr. Kerry said at a town hall meeting in Huntington. “He’s pushing it off on everybody else.”

The Bush campaign went straight at Mr. Kerry yesterday, airing an ad in West Virginia challenging the senator’s voting record on supporting the troops in Iraq.

Mr. Kerry voted against the $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill last year that funded the continued war effort. The bill included money for armor plating for Humvees and body armor for troops.

“Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war,” the ad’s announcer says. “Though John Kerry voted in October 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers.”

But, the senator said, the Bush administration sent the military into Iraq in the first place without that equipment.

“They didn’t have the state-of-the-art body armor at the moment they went in,” Mr. Kerry said. He also said he voted for an amendment that would have funded the bill by repealing tax cuts on upper-income Americans.

Meanwhile, Kerry supporter Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential hopeful, said yesterday that Mr. Bush is partly responsible for the terrorist attacks in Spain last week.

“The president is the one who dragged our troops to Iraq, which has apparently been a factor in the death of 200 Spaniards over the weekend,” said Mr. Dean in a news conference call arranged by the Kerry campaign to defend the senator’s record.

Mr. Dean said that charge was supported by an al Qaeda tape that surfaced after the attacks, claiming responsibility and calling the bombing a response to Spain’s support for Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq.

“That is what they said in the tape, they made that connection. I am simply repeating it,” Mr. Dean said.

Mr. Kerry also took another step yesterday in the campaign for funds, using Mr. Clinton to try to open Democrats’ wallets.

“It’s our chance to demonstrate that, in 2004, we’re not going to yield an inch to the Republican attack machine when it comes to defining what this campaign is all about,” Mr. Clinton said in the letter.

The campaign’s goal is to raise $10 million in 10 days, leading up to the March 25 unity dinner that the Democratic National Committee is holding to rally behind Mr. Kerry as the candidate.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign raised $10 million over the Internet in the 10 days after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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