Kerry, Edwards embark on cross-country 'let's make it happen' bus campaign

Friday, July 30th 2004, 6:15 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry plunged into the general election and embarked Friday on a coast-to-coast campaign swing through 21 states aimed at convincing millions of undecided voters that he will stand up for ordinary Americans.

``Ninety-seven days, lets make it happen,'' Kerry, coming off his acceptance speech Thursday night, told hundreds of supporters gathered at the early morning rally overlooking Boston Harbor.

After vacationing for a week and trailing slightly in the polls, President Bush also was back campaigning Friday, taking a swipe at Kerry by telling battleground state voters that when it comes to choosing a president, ``results matter.''

Kerry and his running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, rolled out of Boston with actor Ben Affleck to start a two-week, 3,500-mile campaign on buses emblazoned with the words, ``Believe in America.'' First stops, Scranton and Harrisburg, Pa., a state Bush lost by 5 percentage points in 2000.

``Americans are playing by the rules while a whole group of people are writing the rules for themselves and leaving the rest of America out. We're going to change that around. Help is on the way for the average person in this country,'' Kerry said, repeating a refrain from his acceptance speech.

Kerry's campaign boasted the he raised $5.6 million on his Web site on the day of his acceptance, a record in online donations. The campaign said it will turn the money over to the Democratic National Committee now that Kerry is operating under public financing laws as the official nominee.

With slightly more than three months until the election, Kerry is virtually tied with Bush and likely to enjoy a bounce in the polls from this week's convention.

Kerry hit hard at the president's handling of the Iraq war and the war on terror in his acceptance speech Thursday night.

``Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so,'' Kerry told an overflowing FleetCenter crowd and a television audience of millions.

``And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn't make it so,'' he said to roars.

Republicans hope to counter any upswing for Kerry by casting Bush as a can-do leader and convincing voters that Kerry has not earned the right to be commander in chief.

Beginning a two-day swing through four presidential battlegrounds Friday, Bush outlined his own accomplishments and suggested his rival has little to show for his Senate career, with no record of reforming America's intelligence-gathering capabilities, its education or health care.

``This week members of the other party gathered in Boston,'' Bush said. ``We heard a lot of clever speeches and some big promises. After 19 years in the United States Senate my opponent has had thousands of votes but very few signature achievements.''

The Democrats' convention, a four-day show of unity behind Kerry, was designed to tell millions of undecided voters in key states about his Vietnam War service and persuade them that he is prepared to lead and defend the country in an age of terrorism.

Thirteen men who served with Kerry on swiftboats three decades ago in the Mekong Delta shared his spotlight, and a 9 1/2-minute biographical film featured Kerry's own war footage.

Polls show Bush losing public support on Iraq, dropping to 42 percent earlier this month from 59 percent six months ago, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Kerry, referring to critics' claims that the president's decision to invade Iraq was based on faulty evidence, promised immediate reforms of the U.S. intelligence system so ``policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics.''

He expanded his criticism far beyond Iraq as he sought to draw a contrast with the president on the national security issues he has placed at the core of his challenge for the White House.

Kerry vowed to reverse policies that send U.S. jobs overseas and promised to expand health care, improve education and ``fight a smarter, more effective war'' against terror.

``In these dangerous days there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong,'' he said. ``Strength is more than tough words.''

When he cited U.S. job losses, rising health care costs, pollution and homelessness under Bush, Kerry repeated the phrase: ``America can do better. And help is on the way.''

Republicans said he has taken inconsistent positions on the war against terror, and that he should explain himself.

Kerry voted in 2002 for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but then voted against providing $87 billion for U.S. troops and reconstruction.

``John Kerry missed an opportunity to help the American people understand his vote for the war in Iraq based on the same intelligence that the president viewed,'' Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said. ``He's right, America can do better.''

As the Democratic nominee, Kerry gets $75 million in public money for the general campaign, the only money he can spend through Nov. 2. Bush, who had $64 million on hand at the beginning of July, gets his $75 million in taxpayer dollars in early September.