Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Sen. John Kerry says the most widely lampooned gaffe of his campaign — when he said he voted for a bill funding the war in Iraq before he voted against it — was “one of those inarticulate moments” that occurred when he was “dead tired.”

But the statement was made during a Huntington, W.Va., rally in the middle of the day, not “late in the evening” as the Democratic presidential candidate claimed during an interview aired yesterday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” Mr. Kerry boasted to a group of veterans during a campaign stop in March.

The Bush campaign instantly seized on the new gaffe by Mr. Kerry.

“Perhaps his watch was on Paris time, where it was evening,” Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said in an e-mail to reporters moments after Mr. Kerry’s comment was shown.

Kerry campaign spokesman Mike McCurry, during a conference call with reporters later in the day, dismissed a question about his boss’s recent statement.

“Senator Kerry has already addressed his vote on the $87 billion at great length,” he said. “I don’t want to add to what he said already.”

During yesterday’s interview, Mr. Kerry said: “It was just a very inarticulate way of saying something. And I had one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired in the primaries, and I didn’t say something very clearly.”

Republicans also questioned how “dead tired in the primaries” the Massachusetts senator could have been.

The explanation about voting on the funding bill came on March 16, two weeks after his chief remaining rival — Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina — had dropped out of the race, leaving Mr. Kerry to cruise easily through the rest of the primary elections.

During his interview yesterday, Mr. Kerry explained that his comment — however inarticulate — “reflects the truth of the position, which is I fought to have the wealthiest people in America share the burden of paying for the war. It was a protest. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted, and that’s what I did.”

Mr. Kerry also continued his harsh criticism of President Bush for his handling of the Iraq war.

Mr. Schmidt dismissed his criticism as a “display of the vacillation, defeatism and personal attacks that have marked his entire campaign.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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