Swing states in the cross hairs

Wasting no time, Democrats embarking on a busy August

Senator Kerry

Election 2004

On The Campaign Trail

July 31, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BOSTON - John Kerry launched a two-week cross-country tour through battleground states yesterday, seeking to carry the energy and momentum of claiming the Democratic presidential nomination in his hometown to states where he could face a tougher sell.

As he began his 21-state, 3,500-mile bus, train and boat tour, Kerry made a direct pitch to swing voters. He pledged to stress bedrock American values - not party labels - during the increasingly acrimonious contest between himself and President Bush.

"We need to go out of here today determined that this is not about politics," Kerry said at a morning rally on the picturesque Boston Harbor, before boarding his campaign bus and heading to the critical swing state of Pennsylvania.

"It's not about Republican and Democrat, liberal [and] conservative. It's about mainstream American values that define our nation. It's about all being part of the same family."

In his first interview as the Democratic presidential nominee, Kerry told the Associated Press that he would seek to put Osama bin Laden on trial in U.S. courts rather than in the international tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.

"I would go the fastest, surest route of conviction, and in my belief that would be a trial for murder in the United States," Kerry said, according to the AP. He said he would seek to try bin Laden in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the states hit by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.

The new nominee plans to campaign through the weekend with his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, through two other important states - West Virginia and Ohio. Kerry will then head to another battleground state, Michigan, while Edwards will turn to his native South, starting in Florida.

Kerry returned to the optimistic message he sounded in his televised speech to the Democratic convention Thursday night, hoping to convince voters that he understands their everyday challenges, especially on economic issues, and is committed to solving them.

"Americans are playing by the rules, while a whole group of people are writing the rules for themselves and leaving the rest of America out," Kerry told the small crowd at a morning rally in Boston's historic North End. "We're going to change that around - help is on the way."

Unusual unity

This week's four-day convention at Boston's FleetCenter showcased a disciplined Democratic Party, determined to project the kind of lockstep unity more often associated with Republicans. Democratic strategists say they hope Kerry can build on the week's tightly choreographed pictures as he tours the country.

"We're going to leave here [and] spread this message all across America," Edwards said at the Boston rally. "I'm convinced that America will embrace this message. People are hungry for hope, for the belief that John and I share that tomorrow can be better than today."

In Newburgh, N.Y., the campaign made a brief stop at a Wendy's restaurant, where John and Elizabeth Edwards ate to celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary, in keeping with an anniversary tradition.

Kerry's campaign is well-aware that another Massachusetts liberal whom Democrats nominated for the presidency, Michael S. Dukakis, squandered a 17-point post-convention lead over the first George Bush in 1988 when he disappeared for the month of August. That left his Republican opponent to soak up attention and define the issues in the contest.

Democrats say Kerry must do the exact opposite this month, in the critical period between now and the Republican convention, which is to begin Aug. 30 in New York.

"He needs to continue to be engaged in the debate on the priorities and direction of this country," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the Democratic whip in the House. "Swing voters don't want to hear simply guarantees; they want to hear specifics."

The next weeks could be vital to Kerry's efforts to blunt Republicans' criticism of his Senate record, which they say is full of policy flip-flops, and his world view, which they say is so liberal as to fall outside the American mainstream.

Now that Kerry has introduced himself to a voting public that - polls showed - knew little about him, he and his campaign will try to transform public questions and concerns about Bush into support for the Democrat.

The Kerry team plans to stop airing television ads in August. It will rely instead on commercials produced by the Democratic Party and independent groups. Those groups are legally barred from coordinating with the Kerry campaign to get his message out.

Swing voters generally favor candidates whose positions fall in the middle of the political spectrum and who show stature on national security issues.

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