Today at New York University, Sen. Kerry went on the offensive.
Watch Jake Tapper's report on Nightline tonight.
"Let me put it plainly: The president's policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security," Kerry said. "It has weakened it."
It was all part of a new aggressive strategy he explained to radio host Don Imus on Friday. "I am absolutely taking the gloves off," Kerry said.
But "taking the gloves off" implies Kerry has been holding back and is only now coming out of his corner. To those following his campaign for the past year, it may have come as some surprise to hear Kerry has been holding his tongue. While Kerry may have generally presided over a positive Democratic Convention, he continually attacked President Bush during the primaries. In fact, his perceived ability to withstand Bush attacks and retaliate in kind was one of his key selling points to Democratic voters.
In early March — just a few days after Bush attacked Kerry by name for the first time — Kerry was caught on tape on the subject. "We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you," he said after speaking by teleconference to the AFL-CIO from Ohio, apparently forgetting he was wearing a microphone. "We're just beginning to fight here. These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen."
A week after that, on March 17, Kerry delivered another strong speech at George Washington University. "We are still bogged down in Iraq, and the administration stubbornly holds to failed policies that drive potential allies away, with a steady loss of lives and mounting cost in dollars," Kerry said.
Pairing Kerry's speech with a tough attack by Vice President Dick Cheney, The Sacramento Bee declared: "Gloves off for Kerry, Cheney; In separate speeches, they go on the attack over Iraq policies."
Some Early Hits
But critics suggest Kerry does not stay on message long enough for any attack to break through.
Some speculate Kerry wants to attack but also fears that too much negativity will alienate swing voters.
Still, he has been willing to strike. At the end of April, confronted with questions about his antiwar activities in the early 1970s, Kerry told ABC News' Charles Gibson that the attack "comes from a president and a Republican Party that can't even answer whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. I'm not going to stand for it."
In August, he took on the president for not immediately leaving that grade school photo-op on Sept. 11. "I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the president of the United States had something that he needed to attend to," Kerry said to cheers at a conference of minority journalists.
"Now to presidential politics, where the gloves are off," said Campbell Brown on NBC's Today Show on Aug. 6. "John Kerry slammed President Bush for his actions on 9/11, and a new attack ad was released questioning Kerry's service in Vietnam."
But Kerry did not immediately respond to that attack ad, launched by a group calling itself "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." Finally, almost two weeks after the group launched one salvo after another at Kerry's decorated service in Vietnam, he responded.