Kerry uses Lieberman as motivational force in Florida campaigning

Democrats liken Palm Beach County to scene of "political crime"

Election 2004

April 20, 2004|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,ORLANDO SENTINEL

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - The wreckage of Florida's 2000 presidential election remains a motivating force in the 2004 race, as Sen. John Kerry demonstrated when he campaigned yesterday in the county that spawned the infamous "butterfly ballot."

"We can be angry. We can be frustrated." the presumptive Democratic nominee said yesterday at an outdoor rally on the campus of Palm Beach Community College. "But most importantly, we have the power ... to decide to do something about it."

Kerry was accompanied by Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2000.

"It's great to be back in Palm Beach County, and this time we're not chasing butterfly." Lieberman told more than 1,000 supporters at a rally sprinkled with hecklers. "We're going to elect the next Democratic president of the United States, and it's going to start right here in Palm Beach County where it ended."

For Democrats, this is the scene of what they liken to a political crime. That's how Kerry, seated with Lieberman among a circle of wealthy donors at an oceanfront Palm Beach mansion Sunday night, described the electoral debacle of 2000 that resulted in President Bush winning Florida by 537 votes and thereby carrying the election.

"This race was stolen from him and from Al Gore and the Democratic Party." the Massachusetts senator told the nodding crowd. "They won the race. And to know that you won, and not be inaugurated and not be able to serve is an unbelievable scar to carry."

Republican dismiss this as a 'backward-looking' obsession that may motivate the most ardent Democrats but may well alienate others.

"The Democrats cite this all the time because it stirs passion in their base." said Marc Racicot, Bush campaign chairman. 'But it does also reflect the fact that they continue to be a very angry, bitter, backward-looking party. Talking about the 2000 election all the time, I think, tends to alienate voters."

Kerry is organizing a team of lawyers to challenge any complaints of voters denied access to polling places or of uncertain ballots.

"We are going to bring legal challenge to those districts that make it difficult for people to register." Kerry said. "And we're going to challenge anyplace in America where you cannot trace the vote."

The Republican Party, led by the president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, is organizing its own voter-registration drives and voter-turnout machinery.

Some voters say it's not so much the 2000 election that concerns them.

"We're more scared of things that have happened since [Bush] was elected." said Blanche Vrooman of West Palm Beach. "Not only the war, which we felt was wrong. A lot of our civil rights are being eroded under this administration."

Kerry raised about $250,000 at a $2,000-a-plate breakfast yesterday at the Juno Beach home of criminal defense lawyer Joe Reiter.

Lieberman's presence helped amplify Kerry's appeal to the area's Democratic-leaning Jewish community.

"For 20 years, Joe will tell you, I have a 100 percent record - not a 99 - a 100 percent record of sustaining the special relationship and friendship with Israel." Kerry said at the breakfast. "I understand not just how we do that but also how we need to end this sweetheart relationship with a bunch of Arab countries that still allow money to Hamas and Hezbollah."

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