Senator Kerry

Campaign takes on sharper edge, a personal tone

Bagging a goose, aiming for voters as yet undecided

Election 2004

October 22, 2004|By Julie H. Davis | Julie H. Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MILWAUKEE, WIS. — 11 days until Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 2

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - John Kerry rose before dawn yesterday, donned camouflage clothing, grabbed a shotgun and trudged through a damp cornfield to hunt geese. By midday, he was back in his typical uniform - blue suit, silk tie - to talk about science and his plan to provide federal funding for stem cell research.

The two stops on the rapidly shortening campaign trail could not have looked more different. But in fact, they point to the same goal: wooing undecided voters.

Kerry said he bagged one goose during his meticulously staged hunt in Poland, Ohio. But he was aiming for a larger haul - the support of swing voters, many of whom have just tuned in to the presidential race.

The senator's campaign aides said the hunting expedition was designed to give people "a better sense of John Kerry, the guy" - the photo-opportunity equivalent of Kerry's frequent mentions these days of the good fortune of the Red Sox in the American League baseball playoffs.

It was also a vibrant way for Kerry to show socially conservative voters, many of whom jealously guard their right to own guns and hunt, that despite his support for gun control measures, he is one of them.

Vice President Dick Cheney joined the National Rifle Association in ridiculing Kerry for what they called a disingenuous campaign stunt.

"The senator bought a new camouflage jacket for the occasion, which makes you wonder, well, how often does he go goose hunting?" Cheney said at a Wisconsin campaign stop. "My personal opinion is that his new camo jacket is an October disguise ... an effort he's making to hide the fact that he votes against gun-owner rights every chance he gets."

But the hunt was more than an appeal to gun owners for Kerry. It was a chance for the senator - known better for his aristocratic bearing and wealthy wife than for his love of sports - to project the face of an average guy to voters who are struggling to make up their minds.

A few hours later, Kerry was speaking more directly to undecided voters as he renewed his criticism of President Bush's policy on stem cell research and pledged he would pour federal money into developing new stem cell lines in an effort to find cures for such diseases as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

"George Bush is so beholden to the far-right ideologues that he has blocked the true promise of stem cell research," Kerry said. "It's wrong to take hope away from people. ... It's wrong to tell scientists that they can't cross the frontiers of new knowledge. It's wrong morally and it's wrong economically. And when I am president, we will change this policy - and we will lead the world in stem cell research."

Kerry appeared with Dana Reeve, the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, who suffered a horseback riding accident in 1995 that rendered him a quadriplegic. Reeve, who brought the audience to its feet with stirring words about her late husband and his enthusiasm for medical research, said she had come "as an advocate - and also as a wife, mother and caregiver," to stand with Kerry to support stem cell research.

"You get the feeling - you really get this feeling - that if George Bush had been president during other periods in history, he would have sided with the candle lobby against electricity, the buggy-makers against cars, and typewriter companies against computers," Kerry said at the Columbus Athanaeum.

The stem cell issue cuts across party lines; most Democrats and many Republicans support the expansion of research into what scientists believe might be life-saving discoveries. But many conservatives - most of them abortion rights opponents who believe that making embryos for stem cell research is wrong - believe the government should not fund it.

Yesterday's journey from a hunting blind to a big-city speaking hall reflected Kerry's twin aims at this point in the race. He is making a series of lengthy, policy-heavy speeches that seek to persuade undecided voters he is a strong leader who offers an effective alternative to Bush.

At the same time, he is stopping in pumpkin patches and on farms, in soccer fields and at roadside bonfires, in efforts to connect with voters on a more personal level.

Undecided voters typically break for the challenger, but every bit of prodding - direct or indirect - helps.

Bush has a different goal. Content with his image as a strong wartime leader and folksy guy, the president is focusing on firing up his conservative base to turn out Nov. 2. He is traveling to swing states delivering his stump speech - complete with strong attacks on Kerry - while showing core supporters that he is as committed to their agenda as ever.

This week, that meant Bush appeared at an event in Eau Claire, Wis., with Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive director. It also explains Bush's frequent references during speeches and town hall meetings to his belief that government should be small, and faith and family are paramount.

Kerry is setting out to convince people that he speaks their language - sometimes literally. In West Palm Beach, Fla., he told supporters at the mostly Jewish Century Village retirement community that he had climbed to the top of Masada fortress in Israel and called out, "Am Yisrael Chai!" - Hebrew for "The Jewish people live!"

In Central Florida, which is home to a large Haitian population, Kerry seized on the yell of a Haitian at an Orlando park. "Vous-etes du Haiti?" the senator asked. "D'accord. Je vais aider les Haitiens." (Translation: "Are you Haitian? All right. I'm going to help the Haitians.")

Kerry plans to continue his appeals to important voting blocs in the coming days, with a speech on women's issues here today and one on "core values" in Florida on Sunday. And he is scheduled to appear with former President Bill Clinton, whose popularity crosses party lines, in Philadelphia on Monday.

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