Posted 11:59pm February 19
by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was running far behind front-runner Howard Dean. A national poll conducted in mid-January showed him a distant third, with only nine percent of respondents saying they supported him in a crowded field of Democratic Presidential hopefuls.
Kerry fired campaign manager Jim Jordan in November, replacing him with long-time Democratic operative and Chief of Staff for Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Mary Beth Cahill.
A campaign shakeup is usually a sign of weakness in a campaign. At the time a source close to the campaign told CNN Kerry’s staff was very uneasy about the move.
“Partly because they wonder who’s next, Kerry’s made it clear he wants to fix this thing, no matter how many heads roll. And partly because his staff doesn’t really blame Jordan for Kerry’s problems,”
“The problem,” the source said, “is with the candidate.”
Kerry loaned a much needed $6 million to his then financially stagnant campaign by mortgaging his Boston home in December.
Then the turnaround started.
He started talking less like a verbose Senator and more like a Presidential candidate. His stump speech dropped in duration from 30-45 minutes to a crisp 15-20 minutes. He stopped talking to voters at events and started talking with them. He listened.
He tried to shed his aura of pomposity, aloofness and entitlement.
He drove a motorcycle onto the set of “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.
In short, John Kerry learned how to run for President.
“People take a measure of your vision, your character,” Kerry told TIME magazine. “They really want to know how you can affect their lives — whether they trust you.” Kerry’s vision became populist. He started railing against special interests, Washington culture and corporations that outsource jobs.
Kerry turned his numbers around and won the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. He has continued to barrel through the primary season, coming in first in all but two contests.
Exit polls showed that Democrats weren’t just looking for a candidate they agreed with, they were looking for a candidate who could beat Bush. Exit polls showed about 40 percent of voters in the Tennessee and Virginia primaries valued electability over stands on the issues. Kerry was preferred to other candidates by the group by a 3 to 2 margin.
After his impressive string of wins, Kerry started to engage President Bush more directly. The Bush campaign posted an advertisement on the internet accusing Kerry of being unprincipled and beholden to special interests. Republican researchers started digging into Kerry’s past, accusing him of taking more money from special interest groups as campaign contributions than any other Senator in the past 15 years.
While the media were reporting on Bush’s service in the National Guard, Republicans were bringing up Senate votes in favor of cutting, or at least not raising defense and intelligence spending in Kerry’s 19 year Senate career.
His most troublesome votes, however, are yeas on three major Bush initiatives: No Child Left Behind, the Bush tax cuts and the war in Iraq.
Kerry has defended the votes as right at the time, but says the execution of the legislation was muddled by the administration.
One of Kerry’s biggest strengths is his service in the Vietnam War; an accomplishment that many say will allow him to make inroads on issues of national security.
Kerry, an amateur yachtsman, was captain of a swift-boat during the war. He received a Silver Star for attacking a Viet Cong position with a grenade launcher. He received a Bronze star for going overboard to rescue a comrade.
After the war Kerry went to Yale at the same time Bush was there. They both joined the secretive Skull and Bones society, which has had former Presidents and other dignitaries among its ranks.
Although they have this connection, it is questionable whether Bush or Kerry knew each other at school. Kerry said to Vogue magazine of Bush, “He was two years behind me at Yale, and I knew him, and he’s still the same guy.”
Bush denied they knew each other and Kerry has ceased bringing it up.
Kerry took a job as a prosecutor in Massachusetts after graduating from Yale. He ran for Congress in 1972 and lost. Bush also lost his first race, also for Congress in Texas in 1978.
Kerry was chosen by Michael Dukakis to be his lieutenant-governor in 1982. Dukakis ran against Bush’s father for President in 1988.
Kerry was elected the junior Senator from Massachusetts in 1984. One of his opponents called him “Live Shot,” accusing Kerry of constantly trying to get on television.
Kerry turned down a position on the powerful Senate Appropriation Committee and instead chose to serve on the Foreign Relations committee. Kerry’s father was an officer in the Foreign Service, and growing up, discussion at the Kerry dinner table often centered on international affairs.
Kerry received word from a veteran working in the Ronald Reagan White House that the administration was providing aid to rebels in Nicaragua. Kerry’s fact-finding trip to the country three weeks later and ensuing investigation started a fuller investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal.
Kerry served on a committee in 1991 that investigated the possibility that there were veterans of the Vietnam War still being held in the country. “At that time, the POW issue was white hot, I mean white hot,” Senator John McCain told TIME.
The investigation helped Kerry form bonds with other Vietnam veterans in the Senate. The committee’s report put to rest rumors of soldiers still being held there and prompted Bill Clinton to re-establish diplomatic ties with Vietnam.
Kerry has been attacked because only three substantive bills he sponsored have become law. Kerry has defended this by saying as a Senator, one’s ideas and work are not reflected by having your name on bills.
Two had to do with marine research and protecting fisheries, showing Kerry’s consistent conservationist values. The third provides grants for women starting small businesses.
Senate staffers say Kerry likes to see options when considering legislation. He doesn’t ask for quick, cut and dry summaries as many office holders do.
Despite his connections to Dukakis, the “liberal” label might not stick to John Kerry in the election.
Kerry was part of key moderate votes on welfare reform and undoing the budget deficit in the ’90s.
While over 19 years Kerry’s political philosophy could have changed on many issues, the nature of legislation is many faceted, and Republicans and other Democrats may be able to read into his over 6,500 votes whatever they like.
Trying to label Kerry a “liberal” is “a prescription for disaster in November,” Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, told TIME. “He is a seasoned, smart, tough, articulate campaigner who has a pretty strong record to offer the American people. And that’s they way [Republicans] better take him on.”
The last person to go from being a Senator to being President was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Kerry is hoping that it’s no coincidence his middle name is Forbes.