John Kerry on the Campaign Trail

And Kerry did not utter the Senator "E"-word without prompting, preferring to cast himself as President Bush's opponent rather than focus on the last man standing nomination battle ahead.

In Wisconsin, Kerry looked tired and sounded hoarse, suffering the effects of an almost constantly strained throat in spite of a lighter schedule. Several news outlets observed that Kerry's Middleton, Wis., victory speech fell flat and that a subsequent event in Ohio felt forced.

But on Sunday, a well-rested, Christophe-coifed Kerry emerged in Georgia re-focused and energized. Before an overflow crowd seated inside and even stretching outside the Coca Cola Roxy Theater in Atlanta, Kerry limited his opening remarks to just over 10 minutes, reserving a full 55 minutes for 18 questions from the crowd.

In rapid-fire Q&A not present since Iowa, the often long-winded Kerry limited most responses to one to three minutes and drew affection from the crowd without once delivering his signature line: "Bring it on."

On only one occasion did Kerry appear more Brahmin and less common when during a question on troubled youth, Kerry capped his statement which included an assertion that he recognizes the difference between crack and powder cocaine by insisting, "This is not palaver."

Kerry did, however, riff on some more popular themes, invoking some familiar but far from copyrighted phrases.

When discussing trade, Kerry said, "We need a president who knows what it's like to be part of an America that's struggling to get by today."

And when asked by an incoming college freshman to give a post-Kerry administration economic forecast, the Senator would only promise his economic plan would center on "putting people back to work."

Kerry reserved his strongest criticisms for the Bush administration, not his primary Democratic opponent. Kerry baited the Bush administration to continue the publicity-wielding debate concerning the Senator's defense votes which the Kerry camp has deftly turned into a squabble over Kerry's military service record.

Asked by a local reporter if the Bush-Kerry campaign exchanges on defense were over, Kerry replied, "It depends on them. If they're going to try to question my commitment to the defense of our country, then I'm going to fight back, because they did that to Max Cleland, they did it to John McCain and I'm not going to stand for it."

But despite Kerry's desire to continue that fight, the political reality remains that he first needs to win the nomination.

Toward that end, it appears "Minuteman" intends to continue riding the momentum wave, taking his now eight-car, 14-Secret Service agent motorcade to stops in New York, Minnesota and California, with a return trip to Ohio midweek.

The Kerry camp will likely forgo expensive paid ads in the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states instead strategizing that the traveling spectacle of the frontrunner will generate a free local media bonanza wherever Kerry goes.

Kerry will also participate in two debates — one in Los Angeles Thursday, the other in New York this Sunday.

Say Cheese

GREEN BAY, Wis., Feb. 16 — Forty-four years ago, a 23-year-old Ted Kennedy accepted a dare, agreeing to fly off a Wisconsin ski jump to support his older brother, then-hopeful candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator John F. Kennedy.

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