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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 13 of 16 -- In the 90-minute conversation, aides say, Clinton counseled Kerry never to let another assault go personally unchallenged for so long. He also advised the candidate to make more sustained criticisms of Bush and to focus on core issues in battleground states -- job losses in Ohio, the toll of Iraq on military families throughout the Midwest.

The next day, in a move that would also prove crucial to Kerry's rebound, the nominee elevated Massachusetts strategist John Sasso, who had served as his general election manager at the Democratic National Committee, to be his traveling campaign manager. Both Kerry and Sasso believed the campaign needed a more disciplined message and a greater day-to-focus, and that Kerry was too often distracted by small-bore problems better left to aides.

Preparations pay off
Nothing helped Kerry think more clearly than an afternoon of windsurfing the Atlantic behind his wife's $9 million Nantucket beach house. On Monday afternoon, Aug. 30, as Republican delegates began trekking from their city hotels to opening night at Madison Square Garden, Kerry sat on the beach toying with a new sail, eager to test it out.

A salty breeze and white-capped surf beckoned. So Kerry slipped his board into the sea, stood upright holding the neon pink-striped sheet, and began sailing back and forth, back and forth, zigzagging among the small boats in the harbor.

Windsurfing was not a hobby likely to resonate with laid-off Ohio steelworkers or other swing voters. And Republicans gleefully seized upon the footage of the Nantucket scene in an ad suggesting Kerry's positions moved "whichever way the wind blows."

But what the Bush campaign didn't see was the danger lurking for their candidate inside the beach compound. The flaky windsurfing image masked the serious business at hand during that island weekend: As the Republican convention proceeded, Kerry and his advisers were already hard at work prepping for the first debate, still four weeks away.

The preparations had begun in June, when a team including former vice presidential aide Ronald A. Klain, Kerry adviser Jonathan Winer, former White House special counsel Gregory B. Craig, Clinton friend Vernon Jordan, and Shrum began compiling material. By August, the team was meeting with Kerry once a week.

"Kerry wanted to do this differently than either Clinton or Gore; he wanted to do a lot of work early," said Klain. "Both Clinton and Gore liked to cram. Kerry really wanted to absorb and needed to get stuff done early. . . . He was much more methodical [than Clinton or Gore]. He's a much more avid reader than either. His reading wasn't the prelude to learning; his reading was the learning. He was extremely disciplined about it."

The sessions that began in earnest in Nantucket and continued as mock debates in Spring Green, Wis., had one goal: Kerry wouldn't hear a single word from Bush that he hadn't heard before.   Continued...

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