Rhetoric On Values Turns Personal
Attacks Sharpen In Presidential Race
By Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A01
BEAVER, W.Va., July 9 -- The growing debate over the presidential candidates' values turned personal Friday, as Sen. John F. Kerry blasted President Bush for laziness and lax pursuit of Enron Corp.'s Kenneth L. Lay, while the Bush campaign accused the new Democratic ticket of condoning a "star-studded hate-fest."
Kerry, who is trying to make values a centerpiece of his campaign, unexpectedly found himself on the defensive after he praised performers who called the president a "thug" and a killer during a Democratic fundraiser Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Friday's debate demonstrated not only how personal the attacks have become, but also the aggressiveness of both campaigns as they move toward their national conventions. With polls showing the two sides still running essentially even nationally, advisers to Bush and Kerry have made clear they are unwilling to cede any issue or any ground with so much at stake in such a competitive election. It also shows how values and cultural issues will play a prominent role in each party's strategy for victory, especially in the South and in rural communities.
At a morning fundraiser at New York's Pier 94, Kerry and his new running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), tried to preempt GOP attacks by accusing Bush of talking about values for political reasons and belying them with his actions in office.
"I will give you a value: The value is that when you are entrusted with the presidency you are not entrusted to go and spend one-quarter of your term vacationing," Kerry said. "You're not entrusted to take the time away from efforts to serve the American people." Bush has spent several months of his presidency at his Texas ranch.
Bush fired back in York, Pa., mocking Kerry's assertion to an interviewer last week that he represents the "conservative values" of rural voters. "And now just last weekend, he even tried to claim he was the candidate with conservative values," Bush said drawing laughs from the sign- and flag-waving crowd of more than 12,000. "I know, I know, but I'm quoting his own words. Believe it or not, that's what he said."
Speaking at an evening rally after a day-long bus trip past Amish farms and through two-lane towns, the president called Kerry "out of step with the mainstream values so important to our country and our families."
Invoking a recent study by National Journal, Bush poked fun at the selection of Edwards. "Senator Kerry is rated as the most liberal member of the Senate, and he chose a fellow lawyer who is the fourth most liberal member of the Senate. Back in Massachusetts, that's what they call balancing the ticket."
Kerry had said that the Radio City Music Hall entertainers, some of whom shocked the audience with raunchy remarks, represented "the heart and soul of America." Bush aides said that proves Kerry is out of touch with most of the nation -- particularly in the politically crucial states of the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest, where both candidates campaigned Friday. The Republican campaign is trying to portray Kerry as holding fringe views in an attempt to contain the momentum he gained from his announcement Tuesday of Edwards as his running mate, and Bush's aides said they plan to make extensive use of the remark in coming days.
For the first time as running mates, Kerry and Edwards blasted the Bush administration for failing to aggressively pursue Lay, the former Enron chief executive officer who was indicted Thursday for allegedly conspiring to deceive shareholders and the government. Lay, whom Bush called "Kenny boy," for many years held the distinction of being the largest financial backer of Bush's political career. "Values are putting the full force of the Justice Department on Day One in an effort not to take three years and a few months before the election before you bring Ken Lay to justice," Kerry said.
White House officials were concerned for weeks about the impending indictment, because it was sure to revive attention to the former connections between the White House and Enron. But Bush referred to the arrest as a sign of his commitment to cracking down on corporate practices, saying, "The message ought to be clear to everybody in corporate America now that we're not going to tolerate dishonesty in the boardrooms of America."
The New York City fundraiser proved a major distraction for Kerry, who initially refused to condemn the comments made by such entertainers as John Mellencamp and Whoopi Goldberg.
Bush-Cheney Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman called the fundraiser a "star-studded hate-fest," and called on Kerry to release a videotape "so that all Americans can see what John Kerry has called America's heart and soul."
Aides sought to distance Kerry from some of the most extreme statements from the fundraiser and said they had no intention of making public a videotape of the event. "The performers have a perfect right to say what they said," Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill said, "but it's not what Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards would say and they do not approve." She went on to say that both had made clear their disapproval, but neither the presumptive Democratic nominee nor his running mate said anything publicly about the performances.
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