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Kerry Unveils Ad Countering Attacks Over Vietnam

Nominee Accuses Bush of Smear Tactics on Military Service

By Lois Romano and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 23, 2004; Page A02

John F. Kerry's campaign unveiled yesterday a new ad accusing President Bush of using the same smear tactics that he used against Sen. John McCain in 2000, as partisan surrogates swamped the news shows to argue about an issue that has dominated the campaign for more than a week.

A day after it posted a similar spot on its Web site, the Kerry campaign announced that the new ad will air in three battleground states to counter attacks on Kerry's Vietnam service leveled by a Republican-backed advocacy group. The ad asks Bush to denounce the attacks.

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The Bush campaign announced it will be sending a letter to television stations Monday, stating: "The Bush-Cheney campaign flatly rejects this baseless allegation of illegal coordination between Bush-Cheney '04 and a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The ad running on your station contains this false and libelous charge."

With polls showing that most Americans know about the veterans' attacks on Kerry, the issue has sharpened the race.

On Long Island, N.Y., Saturday night, a group of wealthy supporters cried, "Fight back, fight back," as Kerry spoke. And yesterday, former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), whose right arm was disabled during World War II, attacked Kerry, agreeing with critics. "One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons," Dole said on CNN's "Late Edition." "The next day he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.' Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam."

Dole, the GOP's 1996 nominee, also questioned Kerry's commendations. "Three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of," Dole said of the medal one gets for a combat injury. "I mean, they're all superficial wounds. And as far as I know, he's never spent one day in the hospital. I don't think he draws any disability pay. He doesn't have any disability. And boasting about three Purple Hearts when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam."

Dole erroneously stated, "He got two in one day, I think." Kerry's Purple Hearts were received for different injuries over his four-month tour in Vietnam, during which he also received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said, "It's unfortunate that senator Dole is making statements that U.S. Navy records prove false."

On ABC's "This Week," former White House chief of staff John D. Podesta tackled Bush's National Guard service during Vietnam. "Senator Kerry carries shrapnel in his thigh as distinct from President Bush who carries two fillings in his teeth from his service in the Alabama National Guard, which seems to be his only time that he showed up," Podesta said.

As part of its counteroffensive, the Kerry campaign is trying to mobilize veteran supporters nationally to rebut the attacks. In campaign offices, veteran-to-veteran phone calls are taking place. In Wisconsin, a battleground state, the campaign organized veteran house parties and events -- one featuring former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

The campaign got some unexpected help from Wisconsin state Rep. Terry M. Musser, a Vietnam veteran and co-chairman of Wisconsin Veterans for Bush. Musser lambasted the Bush-Cheney campaign in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over Republican attacks on Kerry's military record. "I think it's un-American to be attacking someone's service record. Period," Musser said in a Washington Post telephone interview. "The president has an opportunity here to stand up and demand that the attacks be stopped."

In Colorado, Jim Russell, who participated in Swift boat operations when Kerry did, wrote a letter to the editor of the Telluride Daily Planet to angrily dispute the claim that Kerry was not under enemy fire when he rescued Jim Rassman from the water, a feat that brought Kerry a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

"I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz, who was later that year killed by enemy fire," Russell wrote in the letter. "Forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago [is] John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water. All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach; although because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don't think it was very accurate, thank God. Anyone who doesn't think that we were being fired upon must have been on a different river."

In North Carolina, Kerry running mate John Edwards overshadowed his economic message for rural communities when he again called on Bush to publicly reject the two ads from the Swift boat veterans attacking Kerry's service. "In the last 24 hours, we have not heard a thing from President Bush. The American people deserve to hear from the president that the ads should come off the air," Edwards said.

At a front yard meeting with residents in a tiny town near Charlotte, Edwards directly addressed Bush: "Mr. President, the clock is running. The American people deserve to hear from you."

None of the Bush surrogates who appeared on the Sunday talk shows would denounce the ad, and campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt would only repeat Bush's call that all independent ads be pulled from the air. "The Bush campaign has no connection to the 527 ads against the Kerry campaign and has called for all of these ads to stop. The Kerry campaign has declined to join in this call," he said.

The Kerry campaign has charged in a legal complaint to the Federal Election Commission to be filed Monday that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign are coordinating on advertising. Federal law prohibits coordination between a campaign and groups that use unregulated money for a political agenda.

After Edwards made his brief remarks about ads, he declined to take questions from reporters. Instead, he met with several residents of McAdenville, some of whom had been laid off from their jobs in the textile industry.

Nakamura is with Edwards.

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