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Election 2004

Kerry plays security card

The presidential candidate is trumpeting his national security credentials during his campaign trip through the Tampa Bay area.

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published June 2, 2004

[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Simon Gaulter, 18 months, gets a high-five from presidential candidate John Kerry while father Mark Gaulter of St. Pete Beach looks on during a rally at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport on Tuesday. Kerry will be in Tampa today.

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[AP photo]
Kerry rides a Palm Beach County sheriff's motorcycle before boarding his plane in West Palm Beach on Tuesday.
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[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Kerry promised "leadership that makes us stronger" at a rally in Clearwater on Tuesday.
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CLEARWATER - Making his third Tampa Bay campaign stop in as many months, John Kerry on Tuesday signaled his intention to challenge President Bush on his perceived strength: national security.

The Massachusetts senator held his first Pinellas County campaign rally Tuesday, following a somber afternoon speech in Palm Beach County about the threat of nuclear terrorism.

"I am determined that we can provide this country with leadership that makes us stronger, that makes us safer," said Kerry, offering some unusual applause lines to the more than 350 supporters at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport:

"You can't talk about making America safe unless we lead America to contain and secure all the nuclear fissionable material on this planet, and we need to do that."

The Democratic presidential candidate arrived in his new red, white and blue 757 campaign plane and was greeted by assorted local officials, including U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa and, as with Kerry events, a contingent of local veterans.

"I came because I want to beat Bush," declared Jim Clancy, a retiree from Sun City Center. "I've got a sign on my golf cart that says, "Save the USA. Send Bush to Mars."'

The two-day campaign swing marks Kerry's fifth visit to Florida since effectively securing his party's nomination in March and is part of an 11-day tour focusing on national security.

Today, he is to talk about bioterrorism with public health and emergency workers at the University of South Florida in Tampa. It is an invitation-only event, and tickets already have been distributed.

The tone of the evening airport rally, with hooting Democrats, jokes and Tom Petty music, was markedly different from Kerry's grim speech earlier in the day at the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach.

Flanked by the kind of cargo containers he said are too rarely inspected, he told more than 200 people that nuclear terrorism is the most dire threat facing the country.

"At this hour, stockpiles go unguarded, bomb-making materials sit in forgotten facilities, and terrorists plot away," Kerry said under the blistering South Florida sun.

With the Bush campaign portraying him as an equivocator who would be weaker at keeping America safe, Kerry has been aggressively pushing back and touting his national security credentials.

The decorated Vietnam veteran and 20-year member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee called for Americans to "take away politics, strip away labels" and seriously examine whether the Bush administration has made America safer since Sept. 11, 2001.

Kerry's proposals for combating nuclear terrorism include rebuilding international alliances; stepping up efforts to secure nuclear weapons and materials from the former Soviet Union; and pushing for a global ban on the production of new nuclear materials.

He would establish a senior administration post focusing on nuclear terrorism and, unlike the Bush administration, opposes the development of new "bunker-busting" nuclear weapons.

To deal with the nuclear threat in North Korea, he said the administration should be open to bilateral talks with North Korea, while continuing with the existing multilateral negotiations.

"If we secure all bomb-making materials, ensure that no new materials are produced for nuclear weapons programs in hostile states like North Korea and Iran, we will dramatically reduce the possibility of nuclear terrorism," Kerry said.

Republicans dismissed his policy speech as little more than embracing initiatives Bush is already undertaking. Kerry, they noted, neglected to mention some of Bush's successes at combating the threat of nuclear terrorism, including Libya's decision to end its nuclear weapons program.

In a conference call arranged by the Bush-Cheney campaign, U.S. Rep. Porter Goss of Sanibel, an authority on intelligence issues, suggested Kerry was naive in some areas and just starting to do his homework in others.

"I welcome the fact that (Kerry) apparently has been listening to the president and has adopted some of his ideas," Goss said.

Goss co-chaired a Sept. 11 congressional inquiry with Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who joined Kerry in Palm Beach County on Tuesday and accused Bush of distracting America's military and intelligence resources away from the most serious threats and into a "quagmire" in Iraq.

- Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 23:55:20]


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