Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Kerry to play security card at convention

AFP , NORFOLK, VIRGINIA

A US Democratic National Convention delegate enjoys the cheering on Monday at the FleetCenter in Boston, Massachusetts.

PHOTO: AFP

With national security a key battleground issue in November's US presidential election, Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry is pulling out all the stops to convince voters he can keep the US safer than President George W. Bush.

While party delegates sing his praises at their ongoing national convention in Boston, Kerry was to press his claim yesterday to be the more effective wartime president at a rally in Norfolk, Virginia -- home to a Naval base and one of the country's largest concentrations of military veterans.

Polls show Kerry and Bush running neck-and-neck in the race for the White House but Bush is still regarded as the stronger leader.

Kerry, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, owes his selection as the Democratic nominee in large part to the fact he was considered the candidate with the most realistic chance of challenging Bush on matters of national security.

His campaign has leaned heavily on his military record, and the Boston convention, where he will formally accept the nomination tomorrow, has been geared toward promoting the same image.

"His first priority will be to keep America safe," former president Bill Clinton said of Kerry in a keynote speech on the convention's opening day on Monday.

Among the Vietnam veterans scheduled to speak at the four-day event, Jim Rassman, a green beret Kerry rescued under enemy fire, will speak, and Kerry will be introduced on the podium by former Georgia senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in the conflict.

"We're going to tell his story," said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. "The story of John Kerry is the story of service to the nation. Someone who volunteered for Vietnam, patriotism and service."

Kerry has narrowed Bush's ratings lead on national security, and insisted last week that precedent was on his side.

"When John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon and when Bill Clinton beat George Bush, they weren't equal on that number," he said. "But they won the confidence of the American people that they could do the job."

Bush's team has countered Kerry's offensive with an intense advertising campaign questioning the consistency of Kerry's convictions.

"We expect you will hear Democrats use the term `strong leader' a lot," Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie said. "But we don't think a strong leader would vote to send troops to Iraq, then vote to cut off funding," he said.

Also see story:

Former presidents praise Kerry's `record of service'

Latest poll shows Kerry `unknown'

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