- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

The 2004 election is months in the past, but Sen. John Kerry still seems to be on the campaign trail.

As he tries to carve out a postelection life, the Massachusetts Democrat repeatedly has invoked his run against President Bush as his party’s presidential nominee.

Last week, he both took credit for Mr. Bush’s recent embrace of increased death benefits for troops killed in combat and criticized the president for betraying the message of the election, which he said was bipartisanship. And on Wednesday, Mr. Kerry brought up the 2004 campaign during a Senate Finance Committee hearing as he attacked Mr. Bush’s proposal to allow workers to invest part of their Social Security in private accounts.

“I think I’ve become an expert on the things President Bush has said or not said. In the course of this campaign, he must have said 100,000 times that he wants to privatize accounts,” said Mr. Kerry, who argued that the high cost of creating such private accounts will mean a cut in Social Security benefits.

David Wade, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, explained that although the Bush administration argues that it has a mandate, “in a race that narrow, the only mandate is for unity.”

He said Mr. Kerry is simply trying to fight for the things he heard Americans talk about on the campaign trail.

“The stories of the real problems of real Americans he heard for two years had a real impact on him,” Mr. Wade said. “That’s why he’s here to fight on Social Security, health care and for veterans.”

But Republicans said Mr. Kerry needs to retool his focus.

“He’s starting to sound a little Gore-esque,” said one Republican aide, referring to former Vice President Al Gore, who lost to Mr. Bush in 2000. “It seems as if his effort at this point would be better channeled working on legislation rather than focusing on an election that happened two and a half months ago.”

One Republican senator said Mr. Kerry should talk with Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2000.

“He’d do well to … have John McCain explain to him how to graciously lose,” said the Republican, who asked to remain anonymous.

For now, Mr. Kerry often refers to his campaign and the issues.

Last week, the senator’s office accused the White House of a “flip-flop” on military benefits to those killed in action. The recent White House decision to increase the death benefits to families of those killed in combat was pushed by Mr. Kerry months ago, when the White House balked at it, Mr. Kerry’s aides charged in a press release.

“The White House announced today that they will increase the benefits to families of service members killed in combat,” the press release stated. “John Kerry called for increases in precisely the same benefits nearly a year ago — increases the administration didn’t support until, well, now.”

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