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Kerry Knocks Bush’s Record

Times Staff Writers

Sen. John F. Kerry headed into the Democratic convention Sunday delivering a starkly negative assessment of President Bush’s leadership, saying that another four years of his administration would produce economic hardship at home and more hard feelings abroad.

The Massachusetts senator, campaigning in Ohio, delivered his broadside when taunted by the president’s supporters during a free-wheeling political discussion in a swing neighborhood of a swing state -- an area of Columbus that Bush carried by just 12 votes in 2000.

“When I see people on the other side of the fence say, ‘Four more years,’ I sometimes say to myself, ‘Four more years of what?’ ” said Kerry in a departure from the day’s mostly positive tenor.

The nominee-to-be is traveling through several political battleground states en route to his hometown convention in Boston, which starts today.

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“Four more years of jobs being lost?” Kerry asked rhetorically. “Four more years of the deficit growing bigger and bigger? Four more years of losing our allies around the world?”

Hours later, Kerry made a surprise appearance in Boston, where he threw out the first pitch in the Red Sox-Yankees baseball game, bouncing the ball in the dirt. The senator had planned the trip for a week but kept it a secret until his campaign plane took off from Ohio.

“It’s a wonderful rivalry,” he told reporters on his campaign charter. “The idea of missing a Yankees-Red Sox series right before a convention is unacceptable.”

After the game, where Kerry was met with a mix of cheers and boos, the candidate headed to Cape Canaveral, Fla., as planned.

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Convention organizers had promised an upbeat, largely nonconfrontational gathering this week, and Republicans were quick to seize on Kerry’s remarks in Ohio to question his commitment to a positive tone.

“It’s interesting that the same week they’re trying to undergo an extreme makeover and roll out the softer, gentler side of the most liberal U.S. senator that he would attack using issues on which he has so little credibility,” said Reed Dickens, a Bush campaign spokesman.

But Kerry made his remarks in response to a group of Bush supporters who stood across the street during his Ohio appearance and chanted, “Flip-flop Kerry!”

“I want to thank all the neighbors, including neighbors who don’t support me at this point in time or may not support me at all,” Kerry said, standing on the front porch of Janet and Jessie “Bob” Aikens, who played host to about 70 Kerry backers gathered on the street in front of their home. “What we really need to do in America, frankly, is to stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other. And what we need is leadership that inspires people to actually listen.”

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The lively scene in Park Ridge -- a tidy neighborhood of ranch houses, begonia beds and carefully clipped lawns -- contrasted with the grim business of securing Boston for the country’s first post-Sept. 11 political convention.

The sidewalks surrounding the Massachusetts State House and the convention center just down from Beacon Hill were bristling with police clad in black body armor. Sharpshooters were stationed on buildings and railroad tracks. Helicopters clattered overhead as about 3,000 demonstrators paraded outside a 7-foot metal barricade surrounding the convention complex.

Taking advantage of their one officially sanctioned opportunity to march, the demonstrators represented dozens of causes and organizations. Most were protesting the war in Iraq. Some directed their ire at both Bush and Kerry.

“I am opposed to the war and therefore I am opposed to Kerry because he will continue the war,” said Genny Kortes, 64, who traveled from Vancouver, Wash., to voice her dissent.

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Kerry, like Bush, has declined to propose a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Bob Kunst, 62, drove from Miami Beach to tell Kerry “to jump in a lake.”

“He won’t discuss the stolen election in Florida so we can open up an investigation,” said Kunst, referring to the disputed aftermath of the 2000 vote. “So you watch, we’re going to have another one.”

Democrats averted an embarrassment Sunday when Boston firefighters reached a contract agreement with the city and called off plans to picket some convention welcoming events. The deal came days after an arbitrator helped produce an agreement with Boston’s police union.

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With labor peace at hand and none of the personality clashes or ideological skirmishes of past meetings, Democratic leaders delighted in the good cheer suffusing their gathering -- something both parties have worked to achieve since the disastrous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago erupted in dissent over the Vietnam War.

“The press says, ‘Gee, all this harmony -- don’t you want some action?’ ” Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe said to reporters over lunch. “No, I don’t. I love it. I apologize to all of you that we’re not giving you more [discord] to write about.”

Although the convention is intended to showcase all things Kerry, with a series of testimonials building to his Thursday night speech accepting the presidential nomination, tonight’s program will offer a look backward.

The highlights will include speeches by former Presidents Carter and Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

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Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, at times mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate in 2008 -- if Kerry were to lose -- will introduce her husband.

While Boston dried out from a Saturday drenching, Democratic partisans took to the Sunday morning talk shows to market the themes and preview some of the rhetoric expected when the gavel comes down today at 4 p.m. local time.

Barack Obama, an Illinois state lawmaker and candidate for the U.S. Senate, used an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” to sound the positive note that Kerry convention planners hoped to project from the stage.

“What I’m struck by is how much people just want practical, common-sense solutions to the concrete problems that they’re experiencing,” said Obama, who is set to deliver the keynote speech Tuesday night. “What they don’t want to hear is a bunch of partisan bickering.”

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Still, partisanship was never far removed from the TV talk, even when Democrats insisted they wanted to avoid that sort of back-and-forth.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson seized on the findings of the Sept. 11 commission report, even as he maintained Kerry was “not going to politicize this issue.”

“There are a lot of shortcomings in the 9/11 report with the conduct of this administration,” Richardson suggested, saying “what Kerry wants to do is fix the problem” by passing legislation to create an intelligence czar and not focusing “our entire national security objectives” on the war in Iraq.

Bush has praised the work of the Sept. 11 commission and said he and his advisors were studying its recommendations.

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But the Democrats were not always on the offense.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, appearing on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopolous,” was asked to explain to conservative, rural voters his stance against limits on abortion, a constitutional ban on flag-burning and support for certain gun controls.

“I don’t think somebody should be able to walk out of prison, convicted of a violent crime, walk across the street and buy a gun,” the vice presidential hopeful said of his vote, along with Kerry’s, in favor of gun show sales restrictions.

“I don’t think it’s the role of government to decide what a woman will do,” Edwards said on the abortion issue, though he deviated from the views of some Democrats by saying he believed the procedure should be restricted late in pregnancy “except for a serious threat to the physical health of the mother.”

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As for flag-burning, Edwards said, “I don’t think we should be tinkering with the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights for the first time in the country’s history.”

Meanwhile, campaign officials confirmed Sunday that Edwards had returned more than $44,000 raised for his presidential campaign by Los Angeles lawyer Pierce O’Donnell.

This month, the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission accused O’Donnell and employees of his firm of laundering contributions to the 2001 campaign of Mayor James K. Hahn. O’Donnell also faces 26 misdemeanor charges of making illegal contributions. His representatives have said that the criminal case should not have been filed, and separately he pledged to cooperate with the elections commissions.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Today’s speakers

David Alston, Vietnam War Swift boat crewmate of John F. Kerry

Tammy Baldwin, U.S. representative from Wisconsin

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Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States

Bill Clinton, former president of the United States

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. senator from New York

Al Gore, former vice president of the United States

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Steny H. Hoyer, U.S. representative from Maryland Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic Party

Kendrick B. Meek, U.S. representative from Florida

Robert Menendez, U.S. representative from New Jersey

Thomas M. Menino, mayor of Boston

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Barbara A. Mikulski, U.S. senator from Maryland (joined by other women senators)

Stephanie Tubbs Jones, U.S. representative from Ohio

Jim Turner, U.S. representative from Texas

Source: 2004 Democratic National Convention Committee Inc.

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Barabak reported from Boston and Gold from Columbus, Ohio. Times staff writers Nick Anderson, James Gerstenzang, Elizabeth Mehren, Eric Slater and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.


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