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Weighing defeat, Kerry sees lessons to guide future

Page 3 of 5 -- ''When it got misinterpreted, I said [to an aide] I hadn't said that," Kerry said. ''And I told my campaign . . . they should go out and correct it."

They did not. Bush made hay over the fact that Kerry had endorsed invading Iraq even if there were no weapons of mass destruction. But Kerry, keeping up his rigorous series of speeches, was unaware for a while that his campaign had never cleared up the matter.

''I later learned" that no correction had been issued, Kerry said. ''But it was clear to me that was to be clarified."

During the same period in August, television ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth began appearing in key battleground markets. Kerry said his campaign had already rebutted the group twice, and thought the matter was over.

''Let's get the record absolutely straight," Kerry said. ''[The veterans' group] first surfaced in the spring and we did have a press conference on the same day and they were gone. And then they came back and there was another press conference and another dealing with them and they were gone, folks. Then the Republicans got involved with them . . . and they came back in August, right around convention time, and they came back with TV."

Kerry explained: ''I don't remember seeing the first ad; I think I read it rather than saw it. Several friends of mine saw it immediately. My reaction the minute that I heard what they had said [was that] I was outraged and I said this has to be responded to. Within a few days, I gave a speech to the firefighters and I responded to it."

But the first ad appeared Aug. 5. Kerry did not make his speech to the firefighters until Aug. 19. The two-week delay between the charges and the rebuttal allowed the allegations that Kerry had exaggerated his military record to take root, according to some Democratic organizers.

''Look, are you asking me should it have been responded to immediately? I've said it a hundred times -- yes," Kerry said. ''And I'm not going to get into pointing fingers at anybody. It's my campaign, should have happened, and that's the price you pay."

The furor over military credentials hasn't ended with the campaign. Kerry pledged to sign Form 180, releasing all of his military records, but challenged his critics, including Bush, to do the same.

''I want them to sign it, I want [swift boat veterans] John O'Neill, Roy Hoffmann, and what's their names, the guys on the other boat," Kerry said. ''I want their records out there. They have made specific allegations about my record, I know things about their records, I want them out there. I'm willing to sign it, to put all my records out there. I'm willing to sign it, but I want them to sign it, too."   Continued...

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