- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Sen. John Kerry bowed to bipartisan pressure yesterday and apologized for insulting U.S. troops earlier this week when he suggested that a lack of wits and poor academic performance had landed them on the front lines of Iraq.

“I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended,” he said in a statement issued yesterday after both Democrats and Republicans rebuked him for the comments.

The apology came after Democratic campaign events with the 2004 presidential nominee were abruptly scrubbed in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Iowa. Democratic legislators Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee also criticized Mr. Kerry. Even Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, no stranger to gaffes, criticized the remark.

“Senator Kerry’s remarks were poorly worded and just plain stupid,” said Jon Tester, a Democrat running in a tight race against incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns in Montana. “He owes our troops and their families an apology.”

Mr. Kerry, who lost in 2004 to President Bush, says he’s still considering another run for the White House in 2008 and had been campaigning heavily for Democrats across the country running for Congress. In one sentence, Mr. Kerry managed to change the national conversation from the Republican handling of the war in Iraq to demands that he apologize to the troops.

“You know,” Mr. Kerry said Monday at Pasadena City College in California, “education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Radio host Don Imus, who had Mr. Kerry on his program yesterday morning, implored him to sit out the rest of the election, which most observers predict will be a boon for Democrats.

“Please stop it, stop talking,” he said after introducing the junior senator from Massachusetts. “Go home, get on the bike, go windsurfing, anything. Stop it. You’re going to ruin this.”

Mr. Kerry insisted that the campaign events were canceled at his urging, but at least one candidate — Bruce Braley in Iowa — said he asked Mr. Kerry to pull out.

“I’m coming back to Washington today so that I’m not a distraction,” Mr. Kerry said. “I don’t want to be a distraction to these campaigns.’

No matter whose idea it was for Mr. Kerry to retreat, said one delighted Republican on Capitol Hill, “He’s cutting and running from the campaign trail, after learning he was for his comments before he was against them.”

Mr. Kerry said the insult was the result of a “botched” joke.

“If that’s joking, he needs to work on his punch line,” said James H. Webb Jr., the Virginia Democrat running for the Senate.

White House spokesman Tony Snow also was skeptical.

“Senator Kerry’s words were pretty straightforward,” he said in response to repeated questions from reporters. “If you listen to the tone of voice in which he said them, it’s hard to construe them as a joke. He didn’t sound like he was trying to make funnies.”

In yesterday’s apology, Mr. Kerry said he intended to take a swipe at Mr. Bush for getting the U.S. “stuck in Iraq.”

But Mr. Kerry’s initial response was to attack his attackers as “right wing nut-jobs.” At a press conference in Seattle, he angrily said, “I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy.”

When the “right wing nut-jobs” were joined by many Democrats out campaigning, Mr. Kerry switched tacks.

A Kerry spokeswoman said the senator’s prepared remarks had called for him to say: “Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”

That particular approach is one that he and other Democrats generously employed during the 2004 campaign, portraying Mr. Bush as an intellectual lightweight who didn’t belong in the Oval Office.

But academic records obtained last year by the Boston Globe revealed that Mr. Bush actually had a higher grade point average than Mr. Kerry did during their time at Yale. In his freshman year, Mr. Kerry got four D’s in the ten courses he took.

• Jerry Seper and Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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