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$25m ad campaign showcases Kerry's career

Veterans group says he's unfit

WASHINGTON -- John F. Kerry yesterday announced a $25 million advertising campaign, the largest single buy of either presidential campaign this year and one that comes as some Democrats have expressed concern that many voters know Kerry only by President Bush's ads.

Two new spots to air this month in battleground states are designed to introduce Kerry to voters as a lifelong public servant in the military in Vietnam, a prosecutor and lieutenant governor in Massachusetts, and a member of Congress. The ad buy is aimed at countering more than $70 million in Bush ads that have aired on radio, TV, and cable since early March. Most of those ads portray the Massachusetts senator as an equivocator who would weaken the country's national defense if elevated to the White House.

That criticism is expected to find new voices tomorrow when a group of Vietnam veterans, including some who served as Kerry's commanding officers, plan to say at a news conference that they believe Kerry is unfit to be commander in chief. Three of the officers said their main contention was that Kerry declared after serving in Vietnam that he and other American personnel had committed atrocities -- a statement he has since said was too harsh.

"He earned his medals, he did what he was supposed to do in Vietnam," said retired Coast Guard Captain Adrian Lonsdale, who was in the chain of command above Kerry and oversaw various operations dealing with Navy swift boats of the type Kerry commanded. "But I was very disappointed in his statements after he got out of the Navy. He is fit to be a great senator. But by his unfounded accusations about the atrocities, I was just very disappointed," Lonsdale said. "It is the difference between being a senator and president of the United States."

One organizer of the news conference is John O'Neill, a Navy veteran who in 1971 held a series of debates about the atrocity issue with Kerry. In 1972, O'Neill, who had the enthusiastic support of President Nixon and his staff, spoke on Nixon's behalf at the Republican National Convention. O'Neill said that he has since become politically independent and was not now acting in concert with GOP officials.

Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan dismissed the veterans' news conference as politically motivated. "First O'Neill was part of the Nixon White House attacks, and 33 years later he resurfaced to be part of the Bush attack machine," Meehan said in an e-mail. "It failed 33 years ago, and it will fail in this political campaign year, too."

At the news conference where the Kerry campaign unveiled the new ads, two of Kerry's former crewmates offered testimonials. Of the approximately 15 men who served under his command on two swift boats and one Boston Whaler, only one, Steven Michael Gardner, has publicly criticized his leadership.   Continued...

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