Once seen as a dubious prize in the face of President Bush's popularity, the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination is gaining in value, one candidate for the nomination has declared while campaigning in Maryland.
Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska said that Democratic chances of gaining the White House appear better since Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., won a surprise victory last week over Bush's former attorney general, Dick Thornburgh. The race for the Pennsylvania Senate seat was widely touted as a referendum on the Bush administration's handling of the foundering U.S. economy.
"The Pennsylvania election has got people galvanized and starting to think the Democratic nomination has some value," Kerrey said yesterday while attending a Veterans Day ceremony at the Maryland State Veterans Cemetery -- Garrison Forest, in Baltimore County.
"I think it unquestionably is a referendum for anyone who was hoping we could get by the next election without addressing the real issues."
One of Wofford's major issues is support for national health care to guarantee care to all Americans. Kerrey said he sees health care an an issue that unlocks solutions to many other problems, including welfare and unemployment.
Kerry contends that millions of uninsurered, low-paid workers currently have a powerful incentive to quit work, in order to qualify for the Medicaid program that provides indigent health care. Kerrey proposes federally financed, universally accessible health care. Instead of paying into private health plans, workers as well as the unemployed would have their health care financed by a new federal payroll tax in addition to higher taxes on corporations and non-wage income.
Some other Democratic candidates, such as Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, lustily lampoon and lambaste Bush. In contrast, Kerrey takes the quiet approach. He compares the president to the boss of a business, who is still popular but needs to be replaced because the business is losing money.
"There's an anger out there that we as public servants aren't doing the things that ought to be done," he said. And that anger, coupled with economic hard times, make it difficult for politicians like him to raise money for their campaigns, he said.
Kerrey, a self-made millionaire restaurateur, won the governorship of Nebraska in 1982, quit after one term, then captured a U.S. Senate seat in 1988. A winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Kerrey lost part of his leg to wounds while fighting in Vietnam.
In Maryland yesterday, he attended a Veterans Day ceremony and dedication of a cemetery bell tower. The cemetery, which was dedicated in 1983, was the last of the five state veterans cemeteries to raise enough private money to build a bell tower.