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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 14 of 16 -- In the White House, meanwhile, Bush resisted practice sessions. His debate preparations were marred by irritation and distraction, advisers said. Bush engaged in at least two miserable sessions with his sparring partner, Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. Aides did not even force Bush to watch the sessions that went badly, because "everybody knew" they had not gone well, one adviser said. Finally, frustrated by the intrusions at the White House, senior aide Karen Hughes moved the practice to Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas.

Still, by the time the first presidential debate opened in Miami on Sept. 30, Bush advisers thought they had already one-upped the Democrat by insisting on a buzzer to enforce time limits.

If Bush aides thought this strategy would show the Democrat as a pompous windbag, they were wrong. Instead, the time limits forced a steely and determined Kerry to make a crisp prosecutor's case against his opponent.

Kerry brought skills honed over summer practice sessions, as well as renewed energy from two effective foreign policy speeches he had delivered the previous week. Kerry was finding his voice on Iraq. Whereas before he talked of a "wrong direction" in the war on terror, he now hammered Bush for "colossal failures in judgment."

Faith, values in focus
"John is a prosecutor; John is a fighter. He needs to fight," said Thorne. "He needed to prosecute the war in Iraq, [saying] 'This is what has gone wrong.' "

Thorne, who was by Kerry's side during his 1971 antiwar leadership, said he now saw a "glimmer" of the passion Kerry had expressed 23 years earlier. "He began to speak from a place of conviction and passion. He felt at home."

Kerry's newfound confidence was on display during the first debate with Bush; as Kerry grew in stature, Bush seemed to shrink, repeating stock phrases and smirking as his opponent spoke. The aides standing backstage broke into smiles. "We knew we had the president of the United States on the run," said Klain.

But only for a while. A majority of voters thought Kerry had won the debate, but he was still neck-and-neck with Bush.

Kerry's staff knew one of their biggest challenges was to turn a man known as an aloof Boston Brahmin, married to one of the nation's wealthiest women, into a man who could appeal to average Americans. For months, aides would propose that Kerry go hunting or that he talk more about his Catholic faith and experience as an altar boy.

But other aides would intervene, saying it would look gimmicky. Although Kerry did go on a hunting trip near the end of the race, "there were people who sat on it and made sure it didn't happen" earlier, said one campaign insider.   Continued...

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