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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 3 of 16 -- By mid-March, two weeks after Super Tuesday, as Kerry took a snowboarding break at his wife's Sun Valley, Idaho, getaway, Bush was already on the attack, saturating the springtime airwaves with $70 million worth of advertising.

A defining moment
On March 18, Bush's media advisers sat inside the campaign's glassy corporate office building in Arlington, Va., counting their good fortunes. The president's strategists had intended to pursue a tried-and-true strategy: Define your opponent and do it early. Now Kerry himself had handed them the words to do just that.

Bush had learned in his only losing campaign -- a 1978 US House race in West Texas, where he was labeled a liberal Eastern elitist -- that it was political death to let your opponents define you first. So in the ensuing years he had turned that same strategy against his foes. In the case of Kerry, Bush readily agreed to a plan to define the senator as a flip-flopper weak on defense.

A Bush campaign negative ad, released March 16, criticized Kerry for voting against an $87 billion bill to fund US troops in Iraq. The ad depicted Kerry voting no on "body armor for troops in combat," on "higher pay," on "better healthcare for reservists and their families."

Kerry's 2002 vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq had been cast with one eye on the upcoming presidential election; one faction of advisers argued he couldn't beat Bush otherwise. And Kerry's own past suggested the dangers of running as an antiwar candidate: As one of them, he suffered a devastating defeat for a US House seat in 1972, the same year President Nixon, despite Vietnam, won by a landslide.

Kerry's 2003 vote against the $87 billion to fund US troops in Iraq was likewise cast in the context of a presidential race. At the time, his primary opponent, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, was enjoying a surprise surge, thanks to energized antiwar Democrats. At first, Kerry was willing to support the $87 billion, provided it was paid for by eliminating Bush's tax cut for the rich. When that provision failed, Kerry voted against it.

That vote provided ready ammunition for a GOP assault. Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said the idea for their first attack ad grew out of a breakfast strategy session at political adviser Karl Rove's Washington, D.C., home. In early March, knowing that Kerry planned to surround himself with his "band of brothers" from Vietnam and to speak to veterans in West Virginia, "we decided to bracket him for voting against men and women in the military," Devenish said.

At that same West Virginia event, Kerry stepped into quicksand when, unsolicited, he decided to respond to the GOP attack ad and explain his vote. The words he chose would ring throughout the campaign.   Continued...

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