Kerry Launches Offensive Seeking To Tie Bush To Swift Boat Ads
In the run-up to next week's Republican National Convention, the controversy generated by the Swift Veterans for Truth ads criticizing Sen. Kerry's war record continues to dominate the presidential campaign. This past weekend the debate over the group's charges was the main topic in the Sunday news shows and continued to receive extensive coverage on network news shows as well as cable and local TV newscasts.
Starting last Friday, the Kerry camp launched a counteroffensive, seeking to regain the offensive on the issue by tying President Bush's campaign to the effort to discredit Kerry's record. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kerry's offensive was motivated by the fact that the senator's poll numbers have been "hurt" by the attacks on his Vietnam war service, which is a central part of his. . .campaign." That is why the Democratic nominee "is launching a multifront offensive designed to stop President Bush from gaining more ground before next week's Republican National Convention." The offensive "includes a complaint to the Federal Election Commission, a television ad blasting Republicans for diverting attention from the administration's record and increasingly pointed charges by Mr. Kerry and his surrogates that Mr. Bush is repeating a pattern of using others for brass-knuckle tactics when in political trouble."
The AP reports that Kerry himself on Saturday night "urged President Bush to 'stand up and stop' what he called personal attacks on him over his combat record in Vietnam." The Boston Globe says that while "the crowd chanted, 'Fight back!,'" Kerry added, "We're going to go at them. We're going to be clear about the real choice in this country." Also on Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune, Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade said the truth about Kerry's record is "being told by veterans who've had the courage to stand up to the Bush Republican attack machine."
Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards echoed Kerry's call, according to the Washington Post, saying, "This is a moment of truth for George W. Bush. . . . We're going to see what kind of man he is and what kind of leader he is. . . . We want to hear from the president of the United States. We don't want to hear rhetoric. We want to hear three words: 'Stop these ads!'" Edwards entry into this debate is receiving much attention this morning, with hourly newscasts on CBS News Radio and NPR reporting on the North Carolina senator's criticism of Bush.
Also joining the fray was former Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran whose defeat in 2002 has been blamed by Democrats on GOP attacks on his national security record. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Cleland told a Wisconsin audience, "Don't let them do to John Kerry what they did to John McCain and what they did to me. . . . We are a better country than that."
The Chicago Tribune reported on the FEC complaint, announced Friday, which "appeared to lean heavily on reporting by The New York Times and other newspapers. But what the complaint appeared to lack was any smoking gun that confirmed Kerry campaign suspicions that the Bush campaign or the Republican National Committee was behind the anti-Kerry veterans group. . . . From the few details about the Kerry complaint available Friday, Jan Witold Baran, a campaign-law expert with the law firm Wiley Rein & Fielding, didn't give the Kerry campaign much of a chance of prevailing."
ABC World News Tonight showed in last night's newscast a snippet of the latest Kerry ad tying Bush to the Swift Veterans group ads: "Instead of solutions, George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record, attacks called 'smears, lies.'" In addition, the newscast also showed former Bill Clinton aide John Podesta, now advising Kerry, saying, "Today, Sen. Kerry carries shrapnel in his thigh, as distinct from President Bush, who carries two fillings in his teeth from his service from the Alabama National Guard."
On NBC's Meet the Press, Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman responded to the Kerry offensive, asserting that the charge of collusion between the GOP campaign and the anti-Kerry group is "entirely baseless. It's meritless. We've actually sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission. . .asking them to look into this. We've told them to dismiss the complaint that the Kerry campaign has put forward. There's absolutely no connection." According to the Washington Post, the Bush campaign also announced "it will be sending a letter to television stations Monday, stating: 'The Bush-Cheney campaign flatly rejects this baseless allegation of illegal coordination between Bush-Cheney '04 and a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The ad running on your station contains this false and libelous charge.'" Howard Kurtz, also in the Washington Post, analyzes the new Kerry ad, concluding, "There is no evidence that the Bush campaign 'supports a front group' that produced the attack ad. There are numerous ties between Bush aides and the veterans' backers, but there are similar ties between Kerry and some liberal groups running anti-Bush ads."
Another key aspect of the Kerry strategy was to tie the attacks on Kerry to the contentious 2000 South Carolina primary between then-Gov. Bush and Sen. John McCain. Kerry aide Tad Devine told NBC, "These are the same tactics they employed against John McCain." On CNN's Late Edition, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson made the same point, saying, "This is the same tactic that was used against John McCain in the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000. You put it off, let other people do your dirty work, and then you try to keep your hands off of it. This time, John Kerry's not going to let that tactic work."
The Kerry camp's forceful response to the ad controversy, says the Wall Street Journal, stems from polls suggesting "the attacks by the group 'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' have harmed Mr. Kerry significantly, whittling the four- to five-percentage-point lead the Democratic nominee built following his party's convention last month. A CBS News poll released late last week showed Mr. Kerry leading Mr. Bush by 46% to 45%, down from 48% to 43% earlier." On NBC's Meet the Press, in fact, Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine who also chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says the ads are "hurting Kerry," based on "changes in the veteran numbers that polls have reported. So I think it obviously has had some impact. . . . I think we all would prefer that we're talking about health care and how we create jobs and how we protect the American people at home and make sure that we have serious plans on organizing the succession and stability of Iraq."