Under pressure to make a clear-cut apology to the military, Sen. John Kerry issued a statement this afternoon, saying: "I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended."
Kerry also managed a swing at Republicans, accusing them of jumping on his "misinterpreted" words to distract voters.
"It is clear the Republican Party would rather talk about anything but their failed security policy," his statement said." I don't want my verbal slip to be a diversion from the real issues."
The apology comes two days after Kerry told college students that if "you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
The White House was quick with a response to Kerry's apology.
"Sen. Kerry's apology to the troops for his insulting comments came late, but it was the right thing to do," deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.
Earlier today, with Republicans eager to keep the story of Kerry's gaffe front and center in the final days of the campaign, President Bush got help from Rush Limbaugh.
The conservative talk-show host told the president that military people in Iraq "get insulted routinely. John Kerry's not the first. He's just the latest, Mr. President. … And that's his thinking on who compromises military members: That they're basically uneducated rubes."
The president had a simple reply to Limbaugh: "Yes."
Until now, the Republicans have been stuck in damage control over the Iraq War.
But Kerry changed that with what he called his "botched joke" tying "intellectual laziness" to the war.
He said later that he had been referring to Bush, not to military men and women who have served in Iraq.
Democratic candidates around the country, many of them privately furious with Kerry, are doing their best to separate themselves from him.
It's what many Republican candidates have been doing this fall as they try to put distance between themselves and Bush.
Now, Kerry's bumbling has given the GOP some ammunition for an attack.
After playing defense for weeks, Republicans are relentlessly targeting Kerry. The president and his aides have done their share.
Campaigning Tuesday night in Georgia, the president called Kerry's remarks "insulting … and shameful."
Today Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove, told reporters at the White House: "He's suggesting that only stupid people are willing to volunteer to fight in our military to go into harm's way in Iraq."
Even Sen. John McCain, a Republican who calls Kerry "a friend," said he should apologize.
On ABC's "Good Morning America," McCain said Kerry "owes an apology to the men and women who are serving in Iraq out of patriotism and love of country, not because of any academic deficiencies."
Today the Republican National Committee released a new Web ad titled "Apologize." It ended by saying: "John Kerry should apologize. Our soldiers are waiting."
Kerry has canceled campaign appearances with Democrats in Minnesota, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
A spokesman for Minnesota Democratic congressional candidate Tim Walz said a Kerry visit would be a distraction.
Another congressional hopeful in Iowa said Kerry's comments were inappropriate.