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Senator John F. Kerry waved to a group of photographers at the rim of the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9.
Senator John F. Kerry waved to a group of photographers at the rim of the Grand Canyon on Aug. 9. (Globe Staff Photo / Dina Rudick)

On the trail of Kerry's failed dream

Page 12 of 16 -- On Aug. 22, an article by Rood appeared in the Tribune condemning the swift boat veterans and backing Kerry's version of the event leading to his Silver Star. The story spread, adding to a growing consensus that the campaign against Kerry was based on exaggerated or unproven claims.

Still, the swift boat veterans had damaged Kerry's standing and left some Democratic strategists asking whether the candidate's focus on Vietnam had created an opening for his political opponents.

One of Kerry's closest friends, Bobby Muller, a fellow Vietnam antiwar leader, went to a September lunch at Washington's Equinox restaurant with Thorne and Vallely. "The failure to respond is inexcusable," Muller said.

The question of whether the campaign should have made Vietnam "such a centerpiece could be second-guessed forever," said Thorne. " And I think the answer is it served us well in distinguishing John's unique biography and also helped put forth an image of a strong commander in chief, an antidote to the very allegation that Bush was making -- that he is weak, can't lead the country."

But the swift boat campaign, he added, was like aikido, the martial art in which you "use the other person's energy in your own defense. They used the energy that we had created about Vietnam to turn it against us."

Veteran campaign advisers
Since May, Begala and other former Clinton advisers had been raising alarms about the direction of the campaign, arguing that Kerry needed to make a clearer, more direct assault on Bush. As one senior adviser, looking back on the entire campaign, described the situation: "Our idea of a 'negative frame' is to say, 'Bush is taking us in the wrong direction.' Their idea of a negative frame is to say, 'Kerry is a coward, liar, and not fit to be president of the United States.' They're hitting us with a baseball bat and we're spitting on them."

By August, Kerry was ready to expand his circle of strategists with veterans of Democratic presidential politics who, unlike Shrum and Cahill, had worked closely with a winner. Kerry and Cahill reached out to Clinton's combat-tested lieutenants: former spokesmen Joe Lockhart and Mike McCurry, senior advisers Joel Johnson and Doug Sosnik, and pollster Stanley B. Greenberg.

"Not to bring the Clinton people in by summer was a terrible failing," said a senior campaign adviser who spoke regularly with Kerry. "A presidential campaign always has to be an expanding pie. You must always say, who can I bring in?"

Lockhart, McCurry, and Johnson were particularly adept at "winning the news cycle" by spinning the day's events against Bush. Those in and around the campaign saw a tougher, more disciplined message emerge.

Kerry also began speaking with the former president more frequently. Sometimes Lockhart arranged the conversations; sometimes Kerry would just call Clinton himself. Among their phone calls, which numbered one to two a week, the most important one occurred on the night of Sept. 4, a Saturday, as Clinton was in a New York City hospital preparing for heart surgery that Monday.   Continued...

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