Friday, September 10, 2004

ST. LOUIS — John Kerry promised yesterday that, if elected president, he would reduce the cost of prescription medicine by allowing Americans to purchase cheaper drugs imported from countries such as Canada.

“I just came from Minnesota the other day — that’s the gateway to Canadian drugs,” Mr. Kerry said. “And when I’m president, we’re going to make all of America the gateway to the same drugs.”

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat and former House minority leader, introduced Mr. Kerry and dismissed concerns about such drugs’ bypassing the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency that tests and approves drugs sold in the United States.

“If it’s good enough for the people of Canada, it’s good enough for the people of the United States,” Mr. Gephardt said here in a state that has broken from Mr. Kerry in recent weeks, according to polls.

“John Kerry will lead us to solve that problem,” Mr. Gephardt said. “He will get the ability for seniors to get their prescription drugs from Canada and other countries in the world.”

At campaign stops here and elsewhere, Mr. Kerry has faced empty seats in recent days as polls continue to suggest he’s losing support among likely voters. Last night, however, the Massachusetts Democrat drew thousands of supporters to a rally in an Allentown, Pa., stadium.

At the National Baptist Convention in New Orleans where he spoke Thursday, thousands of seats in the massive hall were vacant. Before Mr. Kerry addressed the crowd, organizers asked people scattered in the back to bunch forward and fill some of the empty seats in front, particularly those between the television cameras and the podium.

Meanwhile, polls show Mr. Kerry trailing by as much as double digits in battleground states in which he once led or tied with President Bush.

Speaking to a small crowd in a gymnasium here yesterday, Mr. Kerry gave a rosy report of his campaign.

“I feel energy,” he said to the crowd of mostly elderly who sat amidst a handful of empty folding chairs. “The crowds have been terrific wherever we go. I think there are enough good vibrations, good things happening in this campaign right now.”

Republicans have pounced on the shaky signals coming from the Kerry campaign, especially here in Missouri where Mr. Bush beat former Vice President Al Gore by 3 percent in the 2000 election.

In an e-mail sent to reporters traveling with Mr. Kerry to Missouri yesterday, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt sent recent clips on the political situation there.

“Good morning, as you head to Missouri today, I would encourage you to read the clips below and enjoy your stay,” he wrote. “According to the Kerry campaign strategists it may be your last visit with the candidate.” One poll, released by USA Today yesterday, showed Mr. Kerry 14 points behind Mr. Bush in Missouri. A Democratic party official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, denied reports that Mr. Kerry planned to pull advertising in Missouri.

Mr. Kerry, who has refused to answer questions from reporters traveling with him for more than a month, remained hopeful about Missouri in speeches.

“I’m really glad to be here. St. Louis, Gateway to the West,” he said. “And I hope it’s the gateway to my west — my West Wing.”

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