kerry aims to reveal himself to voters
[font=verdana,sans-serif][font=verdana,sans-serif]email this storyapr 17, 6:32 pm (et)
by mike glover
[font=verdana,sans-serif](ap) democratic presidential candidate sen. john kerry, d-mass., right, and his wife teresa heinz kerry,...
miami (ap) - john kerry is entering an important campaign stretch, acknowledging he remains largely unknown to millions of voters and needs to offer them a compelling reason to throw out a sitting president.
aggressive advertising and help from former rivals are part of the first step. at the same time, the presumptive democratic presidential nominee and his aides contend they have survived a dangerous first phase of the campaign against president bush, who has far outstripped kerry in fund raising.
"we've remained competitive," said senior adviser michael meehan. "at worst, it's a neck-and-neck race."
both meehan and kerry say kerry has withstood an initial barrage of negative bush commercials relatively unscathed. while kerry's unfavorable ratings have crept up, most polls show the race a virtual dead heat.
bush had aimed to define the senator as a tax-raising massachusetts liberal, weak on defense and inconsistent on a range of issues.
"they're out 50 million bucks and got nothing to show for it," kerry told reporters on his campaign plane, a reference to the bush-cheney campaign's initial burst of spending on ads.
kerry's next step is to air new commercials offering voters his biography - heavily focused on his decorated vietnam war record - and his policy proposals. those commercials should appear by month's end.
former rivals will take kerry's message to competitive states. the four-term senator is concentrating on the states that probably will decide the election. over next four days, for instance, kerry will spend at least part of the day in florida, the state that settled the disputed 2000 election.
kerry claimed the nomination after a relatively brief and mild primary season that left him with few lasting scars and the democratic party united.
kerry and his aides are quick to point out that former president clinton didn't secure the nomination until june 1992, just weeks before the nominating convention.
"to be where we are by april is pretty amazing," meehan said. "all of our rivals are now out serving as surrogates."
former candidate joe lieberman was to campaign with kerry in florida. during a new york campaign swing last week, kerry met with al sharpton to discuss how to boost turnout among black voters.
not only have former rivals come on board, but kerry has mined the staffs for campaign talent.
steve elmendorf, once a top aide to rep. dick gephardt, d-mo., is kerry's liaison to labor. karen hicks, a former aide to howard dean, has signed on as deputy field director.
unions stand behind kerry's candidacy. kerry, who last year took out a mortgage on his boston house to keep his candidacy alive, has demonstrated considerable success in fund raising since he essentially wrapped up the nomination.
kerry collected some $50 million in the first quarter of the year; in just three days last week, he pulled in nearly $15 million. democratic national committee officials estimate that between the party and kerry, they have roughly $70 million available with fund raising continuing at a good pace.
still, millions of voters know little about the democrat.
"i found that even in the primaries, people in new hampshire who'd been seeing television in boston for 20 years didn't know i was a veteran," kerry said at a recent fund-raiser last week.
the bush-cheney campaign has used ads to try to portray kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal and a potential president who would be less decisive than the current commander in chief.
"i am not a redistribution democrat," kerry said. "i am not somebody who wants to go back and make the mistakes of the democratic party of 20, 25 years ago."
said pennsylvania gov. ed rendell, considered a possible choice as a vice presidential candidate: "kerry can make the case he voted to balance the budget and he's the fiscal conservative."
determined to counter gop criticism of his senate record on defense, kerry stresses his military background, hoping that will negate any bush advantage on national security.
"my task obviously is to convince americans - we don't have to beat him on it - but we have to convince americans of my ability to manage that as effectively, or more effectively if possible," kerry said.
kerry acknowledged that he faces a tough task in defining himself, but said the money he has raised and the closeness of the race have left the door open. "the level of communication that we still need to do is enormous," he said. "what the republicans were counting on was a nominee they could easily define. for the first time we have the power of having a democratic nominee who has the ability to talk back, to actually fight back."