With his first step toward a formal announcement of a run for the presidency, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry joins a fellow New Englander, Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont, in officially exploring a bid for the 2004 Democratic nomination. Both candidates have labored in the shadows of higher-profile politicians from their respective states, and they can soon expect to share the field with Democratic contenders who may start with greater name recognition and broader bases of voter support. But John Kerry's formation of an exploratory committee is not to be taken lightly. His entry gives Democrats a candidate well-grounded in issues much on the minds of many Americans, such as national and economic security, education and health care. He has a strong record of service, both in uniform and in public office.
Over the next several months Mr. Kerry will need to show enough voter support to raise the enormous amounts of money required to fuel a national campaign. While the Kerry name is not exactly a household word among rank-and-file Democrats, he garnered 18 percent in a recent Los Angeles Times poll of 312 of the 388 Democratic National Committee members, only one point behind former vice president Al Gore, who was at the top. But Mr. Kerry -- like all current and expected candidates in the Democratic field, including newcomer Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and the more familiar Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) -- lost in the survey to "no preference," which got 46 percent.
That result, along with a recent Washington Post poll showing Mr. Kerry tied with Mr. Daschle but trailing Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman, suggests that the race for the Democratic nomination will be more competitive than it was four years ago, when Mr. Gore had to dispatch only former senator Bill Bradley in the early primaries to clear the way to the nomination. It also argues for contenders to file early; with the primaries front-loaded this time around, the race for the nomination could be over early in 2004. ...
And Mr. Kerry faces a phenomenally popular Republican incumbent. But that is a challenge confronting all who would enter the 2004 race. Faced by another Bush with high ratings, some Democrats of stature chose not to run in 1992, and regretted their decision. John Kerry's entry is an encouraging portent this time of a spirited contest for the Democratic nomination.
Considering the relentless political parade that passes through here in the weeks leading to any New Hampshire primary, it is a surprise that Sen. John Kerry's visit to the Monitor in January 2000 made such a lasting impression. Of course, Kerry meant it to last. His presidential ambition has never been a secret, and soon enough he will be here often to stake his claim to the 2004 Democratic nomination.
In 2000, Kerry came to New Hampshire on behalf of Vice President Al Gore. Running against former Sen. Bill Bradley ... Gore was already exhibiting the identity crisis that would cost him the presidency.
Kerry made a better case for Gore than Gore did. Kerry knew himself. His experience on the national stage and his centrist views seemed like advantages, not encumbrances. He was succinct and articulate in stating the obvious -- that Gore was best situated to capitalize on the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years and that Clinton's personal scandals need not rub off on him.
Kerry has yet to say he will run in 2004, but the announcement should come soon. A profile by Joe Klein in this week's New Yorker makes clear that Kerry has thought deeply about how to run.
Although he lacks Sen. John McCain's comic timing and "outlaw sensibility," as Klein calls it, Kerry wants to follow McCain's lead in one vital respect. That is to push beyond narrow, poll-tested positions, show voters why his candidacy matters and inspire them to care. ...
The next election is nearly two years away, but the nation awoke on Sept. 11, 2001, to a struggle every bit as pressing as the Cold War. In times of international crisis, voters are reluctant to change leaders.
Despite these odds, Democrats must strive during coming months to find their voice and to nominate a leader.
Kerry brings serious credentials to this quest. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran. From an early age, he has acted on principle in the public arena. He has been an effective U.S. senator. In recent times, he has been unafraid to challenge President Bush -- or to support him. He is a seasoned campaigner, with a character-building defeat on his record to go with a hard-earned 1996 re-election victory over William Weld.
New Hampshire will soon become a huge stage for presidential politics. As a neighbor, Kerry will enter upon it with certain advantages. It will be interesting to see whether he can be as clear and direct about his own direction as he was nearly three years ago when he came calling on Al Gore's behalf.
What is it about Massachusetts that breeds such political ambition?
Not that such ambition is a bad thing. It isn't. It's just that those with a little distance and a little more objectivity would find it all a bit mystifying.
This isn't a state with a huge number of electoral votes. It is, when you think about it, a little remote -- tucked off in a corner of the nation, and a cold corner at that. (But then neither of those drawbacks are stopping Vermont Gov. Howard Dean from making a presidential bid, now are they?) Oh sure, there's the proximity to New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation presidential primary -- itself an entirely bizarre political phenomenon. But it does seem that attaining high office here is like a sprinkling of political pixie dust -- it makes all things seem possible.
So now Sen. John Kerry is just about off and running in his quest for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. It's a gutsy move, taking on an incumbent president whose conduct of the war on terror has made him enormously popular. And it could be even more problematic should this nation decide to engage in a war against Iraq.
But Kerry has never lacked for courage -- not the real kind and not the political kind. We may differ with him on some issues (his stand on the Bush tax cuts among them), but his command of issues is broad and deep -- just ask his last real political rival, Bill Weld, no slouch in the intellect department himself.
The national Democratic Party needs more than political retreads to speak to its values and issues. It could do a lot worse than having John Kerry as its standard bearer.
Sen. John Kerry is having his presidential debut this week, with mostly favorable national media coverage as he establishes an exploratory committee for the 2004 campaign. Massachusetts Democrats might be forgiven if they already feel a hangover coming on given the state's still tender memories of the Dukakis campaign, now 14 years old, and the added burdens of hosting the 2004 national convention in Boston. ...
Kerry, 58, presents a meaty alternative to the intellectual laziness of the current administration. He is a rigorous thinker, studious and nuanced, if a bit dry in the delivery. Famously decorated in the Vietnam War, he has a visceral understanding of what it means to ask Americans to sacrifice in foreign adventures. What he calls the ''rough, sloppy'' foreign policy of the Bush administration would not characterize a Kerry agenda.
Kerry is an internationalist, appalled that foreign aid is billions less than it was when Ronald Reagan was president. He is not averse to a muscular role for the United States overseas, but he understands that there are many more notes to be sounded than the one harsh cry now emanating from Washington. He was most persuasive in explaining his vote to authorize force in Iraq when he said it was needed to spur a multilateral U.N. resolution. ...
Kerry has already staked out important policy differences with Bush as well as other Democrats. He would halt the inequitable Bush tax cuts and replace them with a cut in the payroll tax that would be far more progressive and a better stimulant to the economy. He would launch the environmental equivalent of the space race, with massive investments in new energy technologies to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.
In an interview before his reelection last month, Kerry said: ''I feel as focused and energized as at any time since I came back from Vietnam.'' He isn't a pork-rind populist and shouldn't pretend to be. But he could take a lesson from his fellow veteran John McCain and fashion his own straight-talk express: honest, bold, distinctive. He may find a surprising number of troops behind him.
(Compiled by United Press International.)