- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

BOSTON (AP) — President Bush and Sen. John Kerry engaged in some lighthearted, long-distance one-upmanship yesterday, exhorting a Catholic priest to save the souls of Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Rev. Robert E. Casey, pastor of St. Brigid Church, led the prayer to open the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.

“I presume he’s got quite a few souls to save in that crowd,” the Republican president joked, noting that the members at the heavily Democratic gathering had “invited at least one Republican.”

“Father, I got a few Republican ones I want to add to the list if I can,” his Democratic rival said in a later call.

It was part of a kind of political call-in show as Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, in separate telephone calls, gave their greetings to the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.

The event is the more than half-century-old precursor to South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which draws hundreds of thousands. The gathering is attended by top politicians in the city and the state, most of whom are Democrats.

Mr. Bush placed his call from the White House. Mr. Kerry checked in from his skiing vacation in Idaho.

Mr. Kerry drew a big round of applause when he identified himself by saying, “This is the next president of the United States.”

Both men, already in full-tilt campaigning against each other, had some fun at the expense of Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican.

“Here’s the way I like to put it about Massachusetts,” Mr. Bush said. “I know there’s a lot of talk about a Massachusetts politician who has his eye on the presidency.

“But tell Mitt it’s not open till 2008.”

When the master of ceremonies, state Sen. Jack Hart, Boston Democrat, asked the president whether he was referring to Mr. Kerry, Mr. Bush sidestepped, saying, “You mean the, uh, well, never mind.”

Mr. Hart provoked a chuckle from Mr. Bush when he asked, “Do you need a running mate? We like [Vice President] Dick Cheney and all, but we’d like you to take the governor to Washington.”

Mr. Bush came back, “Look, you’re lucky to have the guy.”

Mr. Kerry, noting that the Democratic National Convention is headed to Boston this summer, addressed Mr. Romney directly, saying, “Hey, Mitt, by the way, I understand you’re interested in our convention and I just wanted to give you a heads-up. We do not want you to steer the concessions contract to Halliburton.”

Then to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat, Mr. Kerry said, “Mr. Mayor, just say no, we refuse to pay $163 for a bag of popcorn.”

Mr. Kerry also joked about how badly he seemed to be doing late last year.

“At one point in December, I’m not sure even Pete Rose would have bet on me,” he said.

He also poked fun at himself over the furor about his claiming to have talked with foreign leaders and received their endorsements.

“I’m feeling very confident about my ability to win. I’ve been told by a lot of foreign leprechauns they want me to win.”

“Can you name them?” Mr. Hart asked.

“Not on your life,” Mr. Kerry replied.

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