With 59 days to go until the presidential election, the campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. — trailing by double-digits in two recent national polls — has made a shift in strategy.
While decrying Republican attacks on Kerry's military service and fitness for office as unfair and personal, the Kerry campaign is also attacking the military service and fitness for office of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. At the same time, the campaign almost seemed to be ceding the national security issue to the president as Kerry focuses on domestic issues.
"In the last four years, George Bush has served the American worker in the same way he served the Texas National Guard: He was absent without leave," said John Wagner, a local AFL-CIO executive, at a Kerry rally in Akron this morning.
Added Akron Mayor Donald Plusquellic: "The simple truth is that John Kerry was in Vietnam and George Bush wasn't. It's as simple as that. … George Bush was hiding in the woods in Alabama and John Kerry was defending our country."
At a rally this evening in Steubenville, Gerald McIntee, head of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, continued the attack. "George Bush worked to go to the Texas National Guard by the connection from his father … Then he went to Alabama. All he had in Alabama was one tooth filled, then they never found him again. Dick Cheney had five deferments. One, two, three, four, five deferments … Who are they to question an individual who won three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star?"
McIntee was followed by Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, who said, "John Kerry was carrying a gun through the jungles of Vietnam, while George Bush was neglecting his military responsibilities and carrying out his responsibilities as a cheerleader at Yale University."
There is no evidence that Bush was ever AWOL from the National Guard, and he was honorably discharged, though some questions remain about his attendance records during a stint with the Alabama National Guard.
Kerry was present for McIntee's, Strickland's and Plusquellic's comments, though not for Wagner's. Asked about the appropriateness of the remarks, Kerry spokesman David Wade said, "I think there's a lot of people who have a lot of strong feelings about the way John Kerry was attacked."
Wade denied any coordination or strategy with these four speakers — two labor leaders, two elected officials — who in a matter of 12 hours unleashed harsh personal attacks on what Cheney and Bush did or did not do during the Vietnam War. Asked if the campaign vetted the introductory remarks ahead of time, or would ask surrogates to refrain from such attacks in the future, Wade said, "We've never censored or vetted speakers."
Four weeks ago, a group of anti-Kerry veterans began running TV ads accusing the senator of inflating his war record, charges disputed by eyewitnesses and Navy records. The Kerry campaign called upon Bush to condemn the substance of the ads, but he did not.
Asked if Kerry would repudiate the charges Democratic surrogates made against Bush this morning, Wade replied, "The mayor obviously is entitled to his opinion. It's not something John Kerry talked about."