Preview of October Campaign Coverage

Aug. 25, 2004

Excerpt of a Washington Post article from late October, 2004:

Bush Finds New Focus for Country
Tim Cartostraw, Washington Post Staff Writer

The Presidential campaign’s new focus on John Kerry’s performance in Vietnam highlights important aspects of Kerry’s and President Bush’s likely performance in the War on Terror, sources say. This past summer a group of veterans accused Kerry of exaggerating the danger he had faced, in doing so making claims contradicted by military records obtained by the Washington Post.

Persevering against all odds, and under the steady leadership of the Bush Administration, Kerry’s critics refocused their attack on his performance under fire, asking the currently hot question: how many Vietnamese did the future senator really kill? President Bush, who had originally distanced himself from Kerry’s accusers, demonstrated skill and determination in a high-pressure situation as he refocused the attack, analysts believe.

Meanwhile, Kerry’s claims regarding the number of Vietnamese he killed and how many of those he killed with a knife or by hand have shifted eleven times according to a review of his interviews conducted by the Washington Post, a pattern many have found indicative of indecision or insincerity. Kerry’s assertion that he brought a bag of Vietnamese ears home to Massachusetts with him as war trophies has been retracted by his campaign, which has called that claim “a mistaken statement made under great frustration.”

As we move toward next week’s election with the two candidates running neck and neck in current polling, strategists from both camps expressed surprise at the extent to which the debate has concentrated on Vietnam. Both campaigns credit this to the focus originally put on that part of our national history by the Democratic Convention in Boston in July. While the Republican Convention in New York in early September focused on the President’s leadership in the War on Terror, the anarchists in the streets outside led to repeated comparisons with Chicago in 1968.

The Kerry camp’s decision to make Vietnam the focus has been questioned by several campaign analysts. “He could have focused on the historic loss of jobs, the massive shift of wealth upward, the current war in Iraq and its cost to our alliances abroad,” said Reginald Hammerton of the University of South Carolina. “There was a long list of potential issues, but he chose Vietnam.”

The Kerry strategy is even receiving credit for modest increases in the polls seen by the Ralph Nader campaign. Kerry’s defense of U.S. actions in Vietnam, and his subsequent statements in support of the soldiers serving at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq are cited by Nader supporters as having cost the liberal Massachusetts senator votes in the campaign’s final month.