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Profile:  Democrat John Kerry - 2004-09-30


Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

According to friends, John Kerry has aspired to be president for most of his life. Now, at the age of 60, he is getting his chance. "I am running for President of the United States to put America back on track, to put Americans back to work, and to make it clear that the one person in the United States who ought to be laid off is George W. Bush," says Mr. Kerry.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, American voters see foreign policy - specifically, the war in Iraq - as a key issue in the presidential election. Senator Kerry, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, voted in favor of invading Iraq, yet later voted against the President's $87 billion request for military and reconstruction aid, arguing that it should be paid for by eliminating the President's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Mr. Kerry also strongly supports a more multi-lateral approach to global issues. "I think we need a president who knows how to strengthen America's alliances and make us stronger in the world," he says, "by restoring the respect and influence that we have had."

On trade, Senator Kerry supports fair trade with an emphasis on labor and environmental standards. He also has promised to create incentives to deter the outsourcing of American jobs overseas.

But in this election, American voters care just as much about the candidate's domestic agenda. Dennis Johnson, a former political consultant now with George Washington University, says John Kerry's nearly two decades in the Senate have left a clear record of his ideology. "If you had to pick the 3 or 4 people in the U.S. Senate who you wanted to pin the label of liberal on, John Kerry would certainly be one of them," says Mr. Johnson.

The Brookings Institution's Stephen Hess describes the presumptive Democratic nominee as "a seasoned, pragmatic, 60-year-old experienced legislator, certainly a patriot, certainly left of center by American standards but not left of center by world standards."

Among Mr. Kerry's domestic policy positions are opposition to the death penalty, and support for protecting abortion rights.

Many of the choices John Kerry has made as a legislator have been framed by his experience as a gunboat commander in Vietnam more than 30 years ago. According to Dennis Johnson, it was in the dangerous waters of the Mekong Delta that John Kerry displayed a tenacity and competitiveness that would characterize his later political career. "The experience in the Vietnam war has been a fundamental aspect of his personality and his drive," says Mr. Johnson

Stephen Hess agrees, adding that Mr. Kerry's tour of duty made an indelible impact on the young soldier. "He had a very distinguished record," he says. "It was short, but certainly brave. And then he decided otherwise about America's involvement in that war and became a leader of the anti-war movement."

The decorated war hero was an outspoken critic of the conflict, taking part in protests and testifying before Congress, making a national name for himself.

John Kerry's political breakthrough came a decade later when he was elected Massachusetts' Lieutenant Governor. In 1984, he ran and won a seat in the U.S. Senate. His poltical style there has been described by supporters as serious and determined; by his critics, as somewhat aloof.

Divorced early in his Senate career, he married Teresa Heinz, the widow of former Republican Senator John Heinz.

Now, in his fourth term in the Senate, John Kerry is ready to be his party's standard-bearer, a role that political analyst Jeremy Mayer believes the Massachusetts Senator relishes.

"I think John Kerry, if you look back on his life, he is someone who has always wanted to be where he is right now," says Jeremy Mayer of George Mason University.

After a career of public service - from Vietnam to the U.S. Senate - John Kerry is now campaigning to achieve his ultimate goal: becoming President of the United States.