Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Sen. John Kerry is sounding optimistic since Republicans have taken to calling his presidential campaign a “tour of pessimism” and his “days of malaise tour.”

In stump speeches, the Massachusetts Democrat began telling people, “I’m running on optimism,” or “I’m the optimistic candidate.”

“Americans are too optimistic to settle for George Bush’s economy,” read the headline of one Kerry campaign press release.

In a speech this week in Colorado touting his commitment to science, Mr. Kerry said, “We’re a country of the future. We’re a country of optimists. We’re the can-do people.”

For much of the past few months, however, Mr. Kerry and his surrogates have pounded the Bush administration for everything from a foundering economy to a failed war in Iraq. Therein lies, many political observers say, Mr. Kerry’s best chances for capturing the White House.

Amid last fall’s stagnant economy, Mr. Kerry — along with other Democrats running for the nomination — drew comparisons between President Bush and Herbert Hoover, the president who ushered in the Great Depression.

As the economy picked up over the winter, Mr. Kerry denounced it as a “jobless recovery” because unemployment figures refused to budge. Once unemployment claims began to fall, the Kerry campaign highlighted a “wage recession” in which the jobs returning to the economy were lower-paying than the ones that left.

Now that consumer spending is rising and voter confidence in the economy is growing, Mr. Kerry calls it “the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.”

Asked last week by reporters in Ohio about economic figures showing a recovery in full swing, Mr. Kerry said, “I think that, uh, we’re going to have to be — look, inflation has just gone up in the last weeks and wages have gone down.

“I think the [Federal Reserve] chairman will probably be talking about interest-rate increases before too long, as most Americans are,” he said. “Where we are with the economy, we’ll have to see. What I’m saying is that we can have a stronger economy.”

The Bush campaign has compared Mr. Kerry’s economic ideas to those of President Carter, whose administration saw a gas shortage and stagflation in the late 1970s.

“While the president is articulating his optimistic vision of the future, John Kerry is on a misery and pessimism tour, talking about the Great Depression and talking down the economy,” Bush-Cheney ‘04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman said last week. “His 1970s rhetoric isn’t going to stop the economic progress of America today.”

Although support for Mr. Bush on the economy remains tepid, polls show he has gained ground in that area.

Mr. Kerry’s message of despair has become a matter of ridicule for Republicans.

“John Kerry recently took a break from his days of malaise tour to take a few priceless days off vacationing in Nantucket,” said Jim Dyke, communications director for the Republican National Committee, referring to an Internet ad released by the committee this week about Mr. Kerry’s vacation at his Massachusetts home.

“Last week, Senator Kerry traveled the country trying to convince Americans that we are living through the Great Depression,” says the ad, a knockoff of MasterCard’s series of “priceless” ads. It goes on to call priceless “a good night’s sleep in your coastal mansion after a week traveling the country on a days of malaise tour.”

• Staff writer James G. Lakely contributed to this report.

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