Kerry, Clark denounce GOP opposition at Wash. rally

Election 2004


TACOMA, Wash. - The spotlight will be trained on Republicans this week, but Sen. John Kerry and his surrogates launched a pre-emptive strike against the president yesterday.

Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark called George W. Bush incompetent and indecisive. And Kerry said the president's administration amounted to little more than a slew of slogans.

Kerry appealed to the party faithful in this divided but Democratic-leaning state to keep working on his behalf.

"This is the most important election of our lifetimes," the Democratic presidential candidate said. "Everything that matters to you is on the line."

Thousands rallied at the Tacoma Dome, where the Massachusetts senator continued to lay out his plans to improve the economy. Kerry promised voters jobs and insurance, saying that affordable health care is not a "goo-goo, do-gooder, wacky kind of idea."

He had spent the last week working to shift the campaign story line from his military service to his plans to help the middle class. But yesterday, Kerry and the veterans who took the stage with him had some tough talk for those who would doubt his heroism.

"I think it's outrageous that the president of the United States can question the medals and the service and the valor of American veterans who have served," said Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate. "It's offensive against every veteran in this country."

Bush has said that Kerry served honorably and has denied any ties to the group of Vietnam veterans attacking the Democrat's military record.

"We say to George Bush, `Enough is enough,'" Clark said. "You want to match early records of service? Throw it open to the public."

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called Clark's comments a baseless attack.

"John Kerry keeps trying to divide America over the past," he said. "His hypocrisy, combined with his vacillation and indecision regarding the war on terror are one reason he has a growing credibility problem with the American people."

Jim Rassmann, the soldier Kerry rescued from a Vietnam river, also came to the senator's defense, calling him courageous and trustworthy.

But when the crowd began to boo at the mention of Kerry's detractors, Rassmann urged respect for all veterans.

Kerry made no mention of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But he told the crowd, "I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president of the United States."

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