Sen. John Kerry is planning a hard-hitting presidential campaign between now and November that will allow no trip by President Bush to go without comment, nor any attack from the Bush-Cheney campaign to go unanswered.
“We have no illusions about the Republican attack machine and what our opponents have done in the past, and what they may try to do in the future. But I know that together, we are equal to this task. I am a fighter,” the Massachusetts senator said Tuesday night after securing the Democratic presidential nomination by capturing nine of the 10 primaries and caucuses at stake.
Between now and the summer, though, Mr. Kerry has one overriding job: raise and spend money.
“Fund raising and the race to define your opponent before he defines you — that’s what it’s all about,” said one Democratic strategist yesterday. “In part it means beefing up for a nationwide campaign. As of 4 o’clock this afternoon, Democrats won’t have the ability to use the primary to define President Bush. Now it’ll be up to [Mr. Kerry] and the surrogates.”
Sen. John Edwards, Mr. Kerry’s last major rival for the nomination, dropped out of the contest yesterday, leaving Mr. Kerry without the coverage that accompanied the race.
With Mr. Bush sitting on a huge campaign treasury and buying his first television advertisements of the 2004 campaign, Mr. Kerry must find a way to compete. That means countering with ads attacking the president and defending himself, and raising money to pay for them.
Mr. Kerry called for donations during a speech in Orlando, Fla., yesterday.
“George Bush has about $200 million, and he’s going to start advertising tomorrow. We need to be able to answer him,” Mr. Kerry said. “We need to get Democrats all across this country, independents, Republicans who want change, go to Johnkerry.com and start sending $10, $20, $50, $100.”
His campaign reported raising $1.2 million in less than 24 hours since the end of the Super Tuesday contests. That breaks the record of $800,000 raised in 24 hours by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean last year and the $1 million raised by Republican Sen. John McCain in 2000.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry opted out of the public-financing system for the primaries, meaning that he is allowed to raise and spend as much money as he can.
And though he is dwarfed by Mr. Bush’s available funds, Mr. Kerry will benefit from surrogates running ads on his behalf.
The Democratic National Committee has promised to raise enough money to ensure that Democrats have a TV presence throughout the spring, and groups such as MoveOn.org, the liberal Internet juggernaut, also plan to counter Mr. Bush’s ads with attacks of their own.
The MoveOn.org Voter Fund, a 527 organization, so named because of the section of the tax code that governs them, plans to spend $1.9 million over five days beginning today, running commercials in 17 states.
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said yesterday the campaign will use the primaries and caucuses in the remaining 21 states as a basis for traveling the country and making the case against Mr. Bush.
But as the campaign progresses, it must build a nationwide operation, which is very different from the state-by-state contests that make up the primary season. One Democratic strategist said the process kicked into high gear yesterday.
“People are going to stay here today to work on hiring for the future, instead of traveling,” the strategist said.
Mr. Kerry also made news yesterday by naming Jim Johnson to lead his search for a vice-presidential nominee. Mr. Johnson was a senior adviser to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, has been chairman of Fannie Mae, and is vice chairman of a merchant banking firm in the District.
It’s the earliest a search committee has ever been started, and Morris Reid, a Democratic strategist who served in the Commerce Department under President Clinton, said the choice of Mr. Johnson was perfect.
“He needs to make sure he’s sending out the positive messages in everything he does. Selecting Jim Johnson, who’s had a tremendous amount of success in the private sector, but he’s also a good Democrat, I think that’s a good signal to send the business community — John Kerry is a pro-business Democrat,” Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Reid said Mr. Kerry must devise a message that doesn’t reach too far.
“He cannot out-9/11 the president,” Mr. Reid said. “What he needs to do is prove he is a viable candidate, that he can keep America safe, and that he is in a better position to not only address the security issue, but in a stronger position on the economy.”
Mr. Reid also said Mr. Kerry must counter charges from the Bush campaign immediately, or risk being swamped.
During the primary campaign last month, Mr. Kerry made wide use of surrogates, usually members of Congress, to respond to Mr. Bush taking advantage of his incumbency during presidential travels, and one House Democratic leadership aide said that will continue.
“House Democrats are ready to unite behind John Kerry and do what it is we need to do to kick George Bush out of the White House come November,” the aide said.
Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters General, said his union, which backed Mr. Kerry early on, will turn its attention to the general election as well. For them, that means pointing out “the hypocrisy of George W. Bush, particularly as it relates to firefighter issues.”
“We’re going to be calling attention to a president who wants to remind this nation our homeland needs to be secure … but is doing little more at times than lip service,” he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.