Tuesday, September 7, 2004

CANONSBURG, Pa. — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry’s campaign spokesmen yesterday denied that there’s a “shake-up” of the campaign, despite the infusion of new Democratic blood into the staff and an overhaul of the candidate’s stump speech.

Under new directions from former President Bill Clinton — the only Democrat to win the White House in a quarter of a century — Mr. Kerry is shedding talk of his own Vietnam War record. He spent Labor Day blaming President Bush for current economic conditions, which he invokes the Great Depression to describe.

“The problem is very clear, isn’t it?” Mr. Kerry said. “Wages going down, cost of living going up, jobs that replace them pay less, standard of living goes down. John Edwards and I believe we can raise the standard of living in America again.”

Despite the signs that Mr. Kerry is revamping his campaign team as Mr. Bush reaches a double-digit lead over him in the polls, the campaign adamantly says it isn’t so.

“There is no shake-up,” spokesman David Wade said. “In the last 60 days of the election, we’ve been lucky enough to add some tested, talented people to the campaign.”

The rewritten stump speech also comes after Mr. Clinton conferred with Mr. Kerry this weekend by telephone from his New York hospital room, where he was preparing for quadruple heart-bypass surgery. Mr. Kerry’s speech and campaign team have adopted the theme that Mr. Clinton used to beat President Bush’s father in 1992 — “It’s the economy, stupid.”

In an early morning front-porch gathering here yesterday, Mr. Kerry’s opening remarks focused entirely on economic and domestic issues.

He didn’t mention the war in Iraq or his service in Vietnam — usually staples of his stump speech — until supporters in the audience raised the issues.

Even then, Mr. Kerry used those opportunities to guide the informal neighborhood conversation back to domestic issues.

After one supporter rose to call Mr. Kerry “a true American hero” for his service in Vietnam and apologize on behalf of “those who have not served who had the audacity to question you,” Mr. Kerry thanked him and quickly returned to the economy.

“What bothers me is they’re using it to cover the attacks on you,” Mr. Kerry said of the television commercials produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that questioned some of his conduct during the Vietnam War.

“They’re using it to cover what’s really happening to your budget. They’re using it to not explain to America why outsourcing jobs, they think, is something to celebrate,” he said.

Mr. Kerry has hired several campaign strategists who once worked for Mr. Clinton and earlier Democratic candidates.

Former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart joined the campaign last week and has been traveling with Mr. Kerry. Others joining the campaign include Joel Johnson, Mr. Clinton’s former communication adviser, and John Sasso, who managed Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign.

In his focus on the economy, Mr. Kerry’s attacks on Mr. Bush are growing sharper.

“What do you think ‘W’ stands for,” Mr. Kerry asked a crowd of supporters in West Virginia yesterday afternoon. “That ‘W’ stands for ‘wrong.’ Wrong choices, wrong direction for America.”

Later in the speech, Mr. Kerry said, “George Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression to actually lose jobs.”

He told the crowd, which included many coal miners, that West Virginia had lost 11,000 manufacturing jobs in the last three years and the jobs replacing them pay roughly $9,000 less than the lost jobs.

“John Edwards and I are going to bring those jobs back to America,” Mr. Kerry said. “We’ll fight for overtime protections, cut energy costs and make health care affordable for American families and American employers.”

He promised to cut the deficit in half within four years.

While Mr. Kerry’s “band of brothers” from Vietnam who were ubiquitous during the Democratic convention have since vanished from the campaign trail, Mr. Kerry has not retreated from criticizing Mr. Bush on foreign policy and military issues such as the war in Iraq.

“It was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Mr. Kerry, who voted to authorize Mr. Bush to invade Iraq. Asked to specify a timeline for withdrawing troops, he said he’d like to get them home within four years.

The size and volume of crowds showing up at rallies to protest Mr. Kerry has grown since the Republican convention ended. At a stop in Steubenville, Ohio, on Saturday night, more than one-third of the audience held anti-Kerry signs, mainly placards that condemned the four-term senator, a Roman Catholic, for supporting abortion rights.

Those protesters were mostly silent and allowed Mr. Kerry to get through his 45-minute speech.

Yesterday’s crowd of detractors in Canonsburg, Pa., however, wasn’t so quiet and shouted Mr. Kerry down several times.

One heckler — drinking a can of appropriately named Busch beer at 8 a.m. — yelled “flip-flop,” “liberal” and “four more years” throughout Mr. Kerry’s remarks. Mr. Kerry paused and responded several times. Other protesters held signs such as “Terrorists for Kerry” and “I voted for Kerry before I voted against him.”

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