Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Candidates to tour as US campaign restarts

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US presidential election campaign was to reopen yesterday after a weeklong ceasefire during observances of the death of ex-president Ronald Reagan.

Democratic contender John Kerry is to give a major speech on the economy in New Jersey, hoping the campaign hiatus will not hurt his lead over President George W. Bush in the polls.

The Massachusetts senator held a seven-point lead over Bush in a Los Angeles Times poll published Thursday. Kerry led Bush 51 to 44 percent.

But a poll released Sunday by Time magazine showed how fragmented US public opinion is ahead of the November 2 election. The magazine found that among Americans who consider themselves "very religious," 59 percent supported Bush while 35 percent favor Kerry.

Those who describe themselves as "not religious" favor Kerry by 69 percent to 22 percent.

US Catholics split down the middle, with 45 percent supporting Kerry, a Catholic and former altar boy, and 43 percent favoring Bush, a born-again Methodist.

Asked if a president should be guided by his faith in policymaking, 70 percent of Republicans said yes while 63 percent of Democrats said no.

Kerry was to launch a broad appeal to middle-class voters this week, decrying rising health-care, fuel and college tuition costs on campaign stops in Midwestern states.

Bush will also hit the campaign trail again to try to convince Americans that the US economy is getting better.

"The economy is growing at its fastest rate in 20 years. The manufacturing sector is growing at its fastest rate in 20 years," said Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt.

"Yet John Kerry travels around America preaching a sermon of doom and gloom."

Bush was due to travel yesterday to Missouri, where he will participate in a forum on prescription drug discount cards. He is also due to speak at two military bases, in Florida and Washington state, later in the week in a bid to rally morale.

Bush already has benefitted from Reagan's death, which dislodged from the headlines a steady drumbeat of bad news about Iraq, including the prisoner abuse scandals and the spiraling cost in dollars and lives of the US-led military occupation.

Doubts remain as to whether Bush would get a boost in the polls after the death of the man he has claimed as his ideological role model, or whether he would lose favor among voters viewing him as a poor imitation of Reagan.

Bush, who seemed to take the view that any association with the 40th US president would be beneficial, made his case again Saturday during his weekly radio address.

"Ronald Reagan always told us that for America, our best was yet to come," he said one day after Reagan's funeral in Washington, where he also delivered remarks.

For his part, Kerry, who delivered Saturday's Democratic radio address, noted Bush's opposition to stem-cell research, which Reagan's widow, Nancy, said might have saved the late president from the Alzheimer's disease that killed him.

"Today, more than 100 million Americans have illnesses that one day could be cured or treated with stem cell therapy," Kerry said.

Services to honor Reagan put Kerry's campaign on hold and kept candidate out of the public eye, which pundits say is a considerable setback for a presidential challenger in a hard-fought election.

Reagan's death also hurt the Kerry campaign's bank account: the Massachusetts senator was forced to rescheduled two star-studded fundraising concerts, with performances planned by pop singers Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson and Barbra Streisand.

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