- JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters)
- One speech may not a campaign make, but John Kerry and his top advisers
are pumped up and in "a fighting mood" after the Democratic candidate's
aggressive attack on President Bush's handling of Iraq.
- The Massachusetts senator, lagging in opinion polls six
weeks before the Nov. 2 election, seems to have kicked a habit of pulling
his punches at the last minute and showed a new willingness to mix it up
with his Republican rival.
- From a scathing address detailing Bush's "arrogance
and outright incompetence" on Iraq, to a Democratic fund-raiser and
on to a morning television talk show where he charged that the president
was "in denial," Kerry seems to have found a new lease on political
- "These guys, they've got me in a fighting mood,"
Kerry said to roars of approval at a reception in New York on Monday night.
- Campaigning in Florida on Tuesday, he openly acknowledged
his hard-hitting approach.
- "I know it sounds sort of tough, I know it does,"
he told a town hall meeting in Jacksonville. "I wish it didn't, but
the fact is ... on Iraq, they haven't leveled with the American people
and we deserve a president of the United States who looks Americans in
the eye and tells you the truth."
- Several Democrats outside the campaign called Kerry's
speech in New York a turning point that would force Bush to play defense.
- "Many people have said this was a speech you needed
to give," said Mike McCurry, a Kerry adviser and former White House
spokesman for President Bill Clinton.
- But Republican campaign officials dismissed it as "new
contradictions and more confusion."
- "My opponent has taken so many different positions
on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all," Bush told
reporters in New York where he addressed the United Nations.
- Kerry staff members were delighted at the newspaper and
television coverage devoted to their boss's stinging critique of the president's
"colossal failures of judgment" in the run-up to the war and
- "He rocked, didn't he," the candidate's wife
Teresa Heinz Kerry declared. "There's a time for everything and it
was time for him to take off the gloves."
- It was a welcome change for the Democratic faithful who
privately feared their candidate lacked fire, and vindication for a cadre
of new advisers who urged Kerry to land some punches instead of simply
shadow boxing with Bush.
- A senior Kerry aide portrayed the Iraq speech as a kind
of catharsis for voters as well as the candidate, who has struggled with
the issue throughout the spring and summer.
- "I think people responded to the fact that someone
finally told the hard truths," the aide said. "The White House's
weak response was telling. They didn't challenge a single assertion he
made about the situation on the ground."
- But Kerry has often wrestled with just how hard to hit.
His tendency was to retreat altogether from some of the harsher rhetoric
that appears in his prepared remarks or to soften it.
- Instead of accusing Bush of living "in a fantasy
world of spin" on Iraq, he told a National Guard conference the president
was dwelling in "a different world of spin."
- An advance text of a fiery address full of biblical allusions
before a Baptist convention warned blacks to beware of Bush's overtures,
comparing the president to a wolf in sheep's clothing. Instead, Kerry described
him as a "false prophet."
- When the ban on assault weapons expired earlier this
month, Kerry rebuked Bush for failing to fight for its renewal, but issued
a much sterner written statement saying the president was making the job
of terrorists easier.