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The Presidential Campaign

Kerry tries out a new laugh line that plays well to Democrats

By wire services
Published October 24, 2004

DAYTON, Ohio - Lately, Sen. John Kerry's pitch has included one of the oldest put-downs in the book.

"Let me tell you what the real test is in this race. We need a president of the United States who can do more than one thing at the same time," Kerry says, pausing to let the titters and snorts build.

The crowd gets it. They've heard about the fellow so dumb he can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

"Bush isn't very intellectually sharp," said Tara Lee, 28, a Dayton social worker. "And all he ever says is "terror, terror, 9/11, terror."'

Bush does talk about other things, of course. He boasts that he has cut taxes, reformed education, added a drug benefit to Medicare. But at Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons, the screaming, hollering, smirking Democrats get the larger point - and they love it.

The line only recently entered the Kerry repertoire, and he has used it at nearly ever stop for days, in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa. It never fails to get a laugh. He uses it rhetorically to pivot from a blistering critique of the president's Iraq and terrorism policies to jobs going overseas, stagnant wages, flu shot shortages and record federal deficits - all portrayed as failures of leadership that stem from Bush's inability to divide his attention.

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry is mocking the president.

"Of course it's a personal attack. It's mean-spirited and it's personal," he said, ticking off a variety of domestic accomplishments, from tax cuts to school accountability. "The list goes on and on. ... It's another example of the arrogance so many Americans see in John Kerry."

Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry said the senator's laugh line is just shorthand for a critique he offers two and three times a day.

"He's not calling him an idiot," McCurry said. "He's calling him someone who is incapable of understanding that you need to have a lot of different things in focus simultaneously. ... If you have as your singular preoccupation the prosecution of a war on evil in the world, a lot of other things that need to be in focus go by the wayside."

Cheney paints dark world if Kerry had been in charge

FARMINGTON, N.M. - The Soviet Union might still exist and Saddam Hussein might control the Persian Gulf and possess nuclear weapons had Democrat John Kerry been president when the United States faced those regimes, Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday.

"I think it's a good thing that he wasn't in charge," Cheney said.

Kerry asserted Friday that had he been president during the war n Afghanistan, terrorist leader Osama bin Laden would be in captivity or dead. The Democratic nominee has long criticized President Bush for abandoning the pursuit of the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks so that U.S. forces could invade Iraq and topple Hussein.

Contending that the Massachusetts senator was "claiming that the world would be a whole lot better if he had been president," Cheney suggested to supporters at a rally that he believed the world would be far worse off.

"Let's go back to the 1970s when John Kerry was saying that we should only deploy U.S. troops under the authority of the United Nations," the vice president said, citing a statement Kerry made in 1970 after returning from Vietnam. "One way the world might look if he had been in charge is, we would have ceded our right to defend ourselves to the United Nations."

High court rejects Nader's appeal on Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Saturday refused to place independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in Pennsylvania, upholding a state court finding of flawed signatures on voter petition sheets.

Nader asked the high court on Thursday to review Pennsylvania's decision to remove him. A state court cited legal problems with his nomination papers that left him thousands of signatures short of the number required.

Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese called the decision "disappointing" and said Nader would continue to appeal, even after the election.

Appeals court judges toss Ohio's flexible voting rule

CINCINNATI - A federal appeals court ruled Saturday that provisional ballots Ohio voters cast outside their own precincts should not be counted, throwing out a lower-court decision that said such ballots are valid as long as they are cast in the correct county.

The ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supports an order issued by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Democrats had contended the Republican's rules were too restrictive and intended to suppress the vote.

Ohio Democrats were discussing in a conference call Saturday night whether to file an appeal in the case, one of the first major tests of how such ballots will be handled in a close election.

[Last modified October 24, 2004, 00:27:32]

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