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Campaign Profile: John Kerry - 2004-01-09


U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is one of eight Democrats hoping to deny President Bush a second term in the White House next November. Correspondent Deborah Tate has a profile of the four-term Senator and Vietnam veteran.

Senator Kerry entered the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for president as an early favorite. He is a decorated Vietnam War veteran with years of experience in foreign and domestic policy.

But he has since fallen behind his rival, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, in public opinion polls in New Hampshire, a state which borders his home state of Massachusetts and which holds the nation's first presidential preference contest, or primary, at the end of January.

Mr. Dean's rise has been fueled by his strong opposition to the war in Iraq.

Mr. Kerry, who voted for the congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war with Iraq, finds himself defending his support for the use of force while criticizing Mr. Bush's conduct of the war.

"My vote was 100 percent the correct vote. I do not regret it one bit," he said. "Going to the United Nations, having the power in the president to use force, that is the right thing to do, to hold the process accountable. What I regret is that this president did such a bad job at diplomacy, and all of you have heard me say this, all through the lead up to the war and including on the day the president decided to go to war, when I said I would have preferred he had taken more time for diplomacy in order to build the coalition necessary."

With the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by U.S. forces, Mr. Kerry offers a plan for stabilizing the country, including reaching out to European countries opposed to the war in an effort to widen the international coalition supporting operations in Iraq.

"The president has a great moment here to bring people to the task of getting more people on the ground, reducing the risk to American soldiers, reducing the over-extension of our forces, and frankly, reducing the cost in dollars to the American taxpayer," he said.

Senator Kerry also calls for establishing a fair and transparent process to try Saddam for war crimes using a tribunal of international judges working alongside Iraqis.

On other foreign policy matters, the senator says if elected president, he would seek to strengthen ties with U.S. allies angered by the U.S.-led war with Iraq. He would also appoint a special envoy to the Middle East peace process and challenge Saudi Arabia on the issue of funding violent, radical groups.

Mr. Kerry is the Democratic presidential candidate with the most combat experience, having served as a patrol boat officer during the Vietnam War, when he won a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. After he returned home, he became a leading voice against the war.

Senator Kerry has spent 19 years as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and six years on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In an interview on CBS's Face the Nation, Mr. Kerry said his background makes him the most qualified Democratic candidate to challenge President Bush on national security issues.

"I think I can make America safer and stronger," he said. "I know I can hit the ground running with respect to Iraq, North Korea, aids in Africa, global warming, [nuclear] proliferation."

On the domestic front, Mr. Kerry says as president he would work to make the United States independent of Middle East oil within the next decade.

On another issue, the 60-year-old Senator promises Americans access to the same health care that members of Congress receive, noting his own recent successful battle with prostate cancer.

Mr. Kerry's critics say the candidate often can seem too hesitant, cautious, or even programmed. The senator dismisses the criticism, and in an apparent effort to prove his critics wrong, appeared on a late-night talk show, arriving on stage on his motorcycle.

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