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John Kerry 

by Pia K. Hansen

A couple of weeks ago, ABC's Good Morning America was visiting with the Democratic candidates. On the screen was this little dark-haired woman giving orders about what food this particular candidate was to eat all day.

"No," said the woman with an intense gaze and a little bit of an accent, "no, absolutely no cupcakes today. Healthy food is what we are trying for."

Then, as she turned and rummaged through some papers, she said, "Perhaps if he gained another 15 pounds or so, he'd seem more approachable, not so gangly."

That woman is Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- and the man who wanted cupcakes was none other than Kerry himself. As it turns out, Heinz Kerry had no need to worry; so far, her husband is the clear favorite to challenge President Bush next fall.

Born on Dec. 11, 1943, in Denver, Colo., John Kerry grew up in Massachusetts. Following in his father's military footsteps, Kerry joined the Navy after graduating from Yale. He was sent to Vietnam, where he served on a gunboat in the Mekong Delta, receiving three Purple Hearts and several other medals for his service in combat.

The Vietnam experience changed Kerry in many ways -- so much so that he helped co-found Vietnam Veterans of America and became a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He became critical of the decisions that had been made in Washington, D.C., saying that elected officials and those in positions of authority were sending American troops to die in Vietnam, simply to cover up their own mistakes. In 1971, he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

At the time, Kerry was 27. Some were already predicting back then that he had a promising political future. But before constituents sent him back to D.C., he became a prosecutor in Middlesex County, targeting organized crime units.

In 1982, Kerry was elected lieutenant governor, and two years later, in '84, he was elected for the first time to the U.S. Senate. Re-elected in '90, '96 and '02, Kerry is currently serving his fourth term. Kerry also likes to ride motorcycles, and he plays guitar and has even shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen.

He married Heinz Kerry in 1995, blending his two daughters with her three sons. Heinz Kerry grew up in Mozambique and is fluent in five languages as well as being an advocate for human rights, health care and women's issues. Her first husband, John Heinz, died in a plane crash in 1991, leaving her at the helm of Heinz Family Philantropies. She holds many honorary degrees and has received countless nominations and awards for her humanitarian work.

In his own words -- "As president, I will roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, and use the money to invest in health care and the education of our children. I will also offer incentives to reward good companies all across America that create new jobs and keep good jobs here at home."

Thinking big: The environment --- Kerry is the Democratic candidate with the clearest stand on environmental policy. He proposes to continue as a "top leader on the environment, fighting to clean up toxic waste sites, to keep our air and water clean, and to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other pristine wilderness areas." In addition to supporting important environmental initiatives, Kerry has been very critical of the Bush Administration's rollbacks of recent environmental gains and its "outdated, old-economy notions that our environment must be sacrificed in the name of short-term profit."

Alternative energy is another cornerstone of Kerry's campaign, and he's setting tough goals: He would like to create a new Manhattan Project to make America independent of Middle Eastern oil within 10 years by creating alternative fuels like ethanol and by making cars more fuel-efficient. This, he says, will create half a million new jobs at the same time -- besides keeping the United States from going to war for oil in the Mideast ever again.

Bush-Bashing -- "How can we trust President Bush to create 2.6 million jobs when he has the worst record since Herbert Hoover when it comes to the nation's economy? Since President Bush took office, the nation has lost 3 million jobs, the worst of the last 11 presidents combined. The president's answer to the staggering economy is more tax cuts for the rich and an 'on your own' message for average American families."

Position/strategy -- Kerry's platform is very close to what could be considered a traditional liberal and democratic ideal. He's pro-choice and voted against Bush's ban on late-term abortions, but he did not vote on the July 2003 legislative amendment that overturned Bush's order to block U.S. funding for international organizations that counsel women on abortion.

He voted and filibustered against the 2003 Medicare bill, saying it would "do more harm than good for America's seniors" because it favored Medicare privatization, drug companies and special interest groups.

Somewhat controversial was Kerry's vote for the congressional resolution that gave Bush the authority to use military force in Iraq. Yet Kerry did oppose the president's request for $87 billion for reconstruction efforts.

Along with Kucinich, Kerry has the most consistently liberal voting record of all the candidates, especially on health care and environmental issues, but he has been criticized for his ambivalent stance on Iraq.

So far, Kerry appears to have a solid lead in the primaries, sweeping five over the past week, including in Washington state. At the end of last year, he'd raised about $28 million -- second to Howard Dean, who has yet to produce a victory. On Jan. 1, Kerry had about $5 million left in his war chest; like everyone else, he continues his fundraising.

Republicans perhaps fear Kerry the most in November because he can counter the president's get-tough stance with an actual war record of his own. Still, Republicans are already rolling out the critiques, including the fact that no Democrat from the North has become president since John F. Kennedy. But then, it's worth noting that Kerry's initials may bode well, for he, too, is a JFK.

Publication date: 02/12/04
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