- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

Sen. John Kerry retreated to his mountain mansion in Idaho as Republicans ratcheted up their campaign to portray him as a jet-setting, “international man of mystery” who slaloms back and forth on crucial issues of national security as easily as he did while snowboarding yesterday.

The Bush campaign began several new attacks on the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate yesterday, including its latest “Boston Fog Report,” a serialized attack on Mr. Kerry’s perceived flip-flops. Yesterday’s report focused on Mr. Kerry’s claim earlier in the week that he supported Mr. Bush’s request last year for $87 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq.

“I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” the Massachusetts senator told the Boston Globe.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said: “John Kerry’s unsteady leadership on Iraq is like the weather of his native New England. If you don’t like his position, wait a minute and it will change.”

These attacks, as well as Mr. Kerry’s ski vacation, come at a crucial time when many American voters are learning about him for the first time.

“This is probably one of the worst times [to vacation] because we’re right in the middle of the struggle to define him,” said Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Kerry’s six-day family vacation at his 19-room, 7,700-square-foot lodge in Sun Valley will last through the weekend and include snowboarding, skiing and reading. It is his first sustained break from the campaign trail in months and ended a week in which he was repeatedly asked to reveal the foreign leaders he has said voiced support for him in face-to-face meetings.

Campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter promised that Mr. Kerry will return from his vacation ready to get back into the campaign fight.

“We will lay out a series of speeches on what John Kerry can do,” she said. “We will put out a detailed budget sometime in the future that will show how to get back on track.”

On Thursday, Mr. Kerry snowboarded down the mountain before a Secret Service agent who was supposed to be protecting him accidentally ran into him. Asked about the tumble moments later, an angry Mr. Kerry reportedly used an expletive to describe the agent “who knocked me over” and said: “I don’t fall down.”

While zig-zagging down the mountain yesterday, Mr. Kerry wiped out six times on his own in view of reporters.

“The snow up there was the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said after a three-hour ski at 9,000 feet. “I’ve never seen the snow so soft.”

Meanwhile in Washington, the Republican National Committee was sending out a new Web video, which spoofs the “Austin Powers” films and dubs Mr. Kerry as “the international man of mystery” for declining to identify foreign leaders he has claimed support him over President Bush.

“Who are you? Honestly?” asks the fictional 1960s British spy from the movie series, a creation of actor Mike Myers.

The 60-second spot shows several clips of Mr. Kerry at campaign stops saying he has received support from foreign leaders and refusing to identify them. Phrases written in bubble letters say: “John Kerry: International Man of Mystery” and “And My Foreign Supporters,” with the same background music and psychedelic colors from the movies.

Jano Cabrera, a Democratic National Committee spokesman, said, “That’s quite groovy baby, but we think that Bush cat is far more deserving of that ‘man of mystery’ title.” Citing the millions of jobs lost and the increase in the federal deficit, Mr. Cabrera said, “The bigger mystery is how he hopes to win in November with a record like that.”

The DNC sent its own Web video to supporters Friday in which a cartoon Bush says, “We can balance the budget in the year 2005.” An announcer responds, “That sounds like a lot of hot air to me.”

Ron Faucheaux, editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine, said the intensifying attacks on Mr. Kerry are not surprising.

“Everybody knew there would come the time after he locked up the nomination when he would be put on the defensive,” he said. “That period has started.”

But the most important question still unanswered, Mr. Faucheaux said, is how these continued attacks will play out.

“I’m sure it’s going to last for sometime longer,” he said. “What we don’t know is how long, how much he will bleed and how he will handle it.”

This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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