- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry returned from a nearly weeklong vacation yesterday to collect the endorsement of one-time rival Howard Dean and have the torch passed from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, the last two Democrats to win the White House.

On what party Chairman Terry McAuliffe dubbed “Unity Day,” the Massachusetts senator attended an $11 million party fund-raising dinner with the former presidents and most of his erstwhile opponents for the Democratic nomination, was endorsed by the United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The same day, he returned to the Senate to vote against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which attaches criminal charges to harming or killing a fetus, independent of crimes to its mother.

Mr. Kerry secured the nomination 10 days ago with a win in the Illinois primary, then began a vacation in Idaho last Thursday.

But the presidential playing field looks very different than just a week ago. President Bush has released a slew of TV advertisements in key states, as well as advertising on national cable channels, and has closed the gap in polls, with the two men now running about even.

At the Unity Dinner last night, Mr. Kerry promised to fight back.

“This year, our opponents don’t have a record to run on, but only a record to run from. So they’ve turned to the old, negative politics. I pledge to you with all of my passion, with all of my soul and heart: We’re going to fight back and we’re going to win in the right way, that lifts our country up instead of driving our politics down to the lowest common denominator,” he said.

Mr. Kerry also employed humor, just as Mr. Bush did earlier this month in unofficially kicking off his campaign and saying Mr. Kerry “has been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue.”

The Democrat poked fun at Mr. Bush’s economic record.

“I want to start by saying something nice about President Bush. Of all the presidents we’ve had with the last name of Bush, his economic plan ranks in the top two,” Mr. Kerry said.

The Democratic Party appears united going into this year’s election, though opposition to Mr. Bush seems a greater motivator than enthusiasm for Mr. Kerry.

That was clear at last night’s dinner, held at the National Building Museum.

“They drove us into each other’s arms,” former Texas Gov. Ann Richards said. “We are so united that, before their wives got wind of it, Joe Lieberman and Al Sharpton were on their way to San Francisco to get a marriage license.”

Not far from Democrats’thoughts was the possibility that independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader could ruin that unity.

Mr. Carter said that when he was president, Mr. Nader used to give him advice. Last night, he said he wanted to return the favor: “I don’t want you to cost the White House for the Democrats this year, like you did four years ago.”

For his part, Mr. Clinton went after the Bush administration, saying it had turned the good will following the September 11 attacks into “a ruthless attempt to concentrate power and wealth.”

Mr. Clinton never endorsed a candidate in this year’s primary, though Mr. Carter all but endorsed Mr. Dean the weekend before the Iowa caucuses, in which Mr. Dean scored a distant third.

The Dean endorsement may be Mr. Kerry’s biggest asset to come from yesterday’s event because it could bridge a gap among Democratic voters.

Mr. Dean’s followers were particularly upset over Mr. Kerry’s tactics during the primary campaign, and many also felt spurned by a Democratic Party establishment that seemed cool to Mr. Dean’s candidacy.

Yesterday, Mr. Dean characterized the primary battle as “a tough campaign” based on issues that divided the two men.

“Now we’re going to talk about the things that we have in common. And we do have an enormous amount in common,” Mr. Dean said, praising Mr. Kerry’s record on the environment and on “balancing budgets.”

Still, he said, the most important reason to choose Mr. Kerry is he’s not Mr. Bush.

“The real issue is this: Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America? A group of people that never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who has served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star?” he asked.

The Kerry campaign has already used Mr. Dean as a surrogate to defend Mr. Kerry in a conference call with reporters, but that backfired when Mr. Dean said the recent terrorist attack in Spain was partly Mr. Bush’s fault because of the war in Iraq — a position the Kerry campaign has distanced itself from.

It’s also an open question as to how many of Mr. Dean’s backers will support Mr. Kerry.

Throughout the campaign, some attendees at Mr. Dean’s rallies said they would never be able to support Mr. Kerry. On Mr. Dean’s former campaign Web log, www.BlogforAmerica.com, reaction yesterday was mixed.

“Dean endorsing Kerry is absolutely the appropriate thing to do. This is the Democratic Party and its candidates. I have no problem supporting Kerry considering the alternatives,” said one poster, “mike in nyc.”

But another poster, “kimberly in NH,” was “Disgusted with Dean. … [H]e’s beginning to walk the walk and talk the talk that he always vowed he would fight to end. Support Kerry, okay, if he feels that’s the way to go to oust Bush. Endorse Kerry, never, or at least wait until after the convention when Kerry would have begged for his endorsement.”

Meanwhile, a study released yesterday by the Wisconsin Advertising Project found that Democrats have been far more negative than Republicans in their advertisements about Mr. Bush. But it also found Democrats have been able to negate Mr. Bush’s dramatic fund-raising advantage through the use of liberal political organizations like MoveOn.org.

Mr. Bush’s campaign has so far spent $15 million, including $2.9 million in Florida. He has also spent $2.3 million in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign has spent just less than $2 million, MoveOn.org has spent $3.6 million, and the Media Fund has spent $5.9 million on ads, for a combined total of $11.5 million.

Ken Goldstein, director of the project, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Mr. Bush’s recent set of positive ads “does not begin to compensate for the barrage of critical television advertising aimed at the incumbent president during the Democratic presidential primaries,” when Democrats spent $32.5 million in 17 states and mentioned Mr. Bush negatively in half of all ads.

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