Aides say Kerry is using a two-tiered strategy in which his events will focus on domestic issues of local importance (jobs in Ohio, health care and prescription drugs in Florida) while leaving events in Iraq to dominate national news.
"I've got your back," Kerry has been telling local audiences recently, the latest of several rallying cries in the course of his campaign. The line gets big applause, even though Kerry often delivers it in a too-slow, overenunciated cadence -- "I'iiiiiiive Gooooottttt Youurrrrrrrr Baaacckkk" -- like an aging preppie who's trying to talk like the cool kids.
Kerry also has a new sign and banner slogan: "Fighting for us," a credo signaling Kerry's commitment to fight for "regular people" against big, powerful interests. It is the distinctively populist rhetoric of Bob Shrum, the Democratic consultant who is helping Kerry and who has advised a string of presidential candidates, most recently Al Gore. In two appearances alone on Saturday, Kerry uttered the word "fight" or some variation -- "fought," "fights" and "fighting" -- 38 times.
"I volunteered to fight for this country and I will always fight to defend this country," Kerry says at Broward Community College Saturday night. He appears for nearly 90 minutes, giving a long speech and answering a series of questions. "The president hasn't shown the the strength to get the job done in Iraq and bring the troops home," Kerry says to a standing ovation, his biggest of the night.
"The president didn't fight for that. I will."
One woman asks, simply, how she can convince her Republican friends that Kerry will keep them safe from terrorists in the post-9/11 world. Kerry's answer devolves into a sprawling résumé recital -- about, among other things, his work to normalize relations with Vietnam in the 1990s, his investigation of the BCCI bank in the 1980s -- that goes on for 12 minutes. A simple "I will wake up every day thinking about how to keep you safe" would probably have sufficed.
And there are more questions, too many -- about Haiti, education, the Middle East. An aide whispers to Kerry that it's time to leave, but hands keep jumping up.
"We love you, Senator Kerry," a woman yells. "Please stay and take my question."
"I can't folks, I really gotta go," Kerry says, jittery but unwilling to shut off questions -- or answer them quickly or simply.
He tells a Haitian American man who asks about medical liability that "John Edwards and I will be the Nixon-going-to-China of tort reform."
As more hands go up, Kerry's body language becomes more desperate, his arm flailing, hands spread almost pleadingly.
"We have 26 days, folks" (actually there were 24), Kerry says, talking fast. "I have to be a lot of places."
He takes another question.