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Clash And Kerry

By John F. Harris
Saturday, August 7, 2004; Page A10

Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz Kerry are not quite on the same script when it comes to whether President Bush responded appropriately in the stunned first moments when he learned on Sept. 11, 2001, that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

On Thursday, Kerry told a convention of minority journalists that he would have reacted more decisively to the news than Bush, who continued reading with a group of Florida schoolchildren for seven minutes after an aide whispered the news into his ear. It's a scene that filmmaker Michael Moore uses to skewer the president in his anti-Bush movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11."




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"I would have told those kids very nicely and politely that the president of the United States has something that he needs to attend to," Kerry said.

The candidate's wife, on the other hand, is not so sure an abrupt response would have been the right one. "I think the president behaved correctly in terms of being quiet amidst stunning news like that in a classroom of kids," she told the host of MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews" during an interview before the Democratic National Convention last month. "You know, what can you do? It takes you a couple of minutes to digest what you have just heard. And then he was . . . not in his White House and in his office with all of his people. He was in the school in Florida."

Kerry's case that he would have acted with more swiftness and poise than Bush was also undermined by another interview -- this one with the candidate himself. On July 8, Kerry recalled for CNN's Larry King his actions that day. He was in a meeting in the office of Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) when he watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television, while standing next to fellow senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "And we shortly thereafter sat down at the table, and then we just realized nobody could think, and then, boom, we saw the cloud of the explosion at the Pentagon."

The Bush-Cheney campaign noted that there were 40 minutes between the second trade center attack and a plane hitting the Pentagon. "By Kerry's own words, he and his fellow senators sat there for 40 minutes, realizing 'nobody could think,' " said a campaign statement. "He is hardly in a position to criticize President Bush for 'inaction.' "

Keyes Likely Obama Challenger

Republican former presidential candidate Alan Keyes will be back in a familiar role -- running for the Senate -- in an unfamiliar place, as a rumored candidacy in Illinois now looks like a done deal. Keyes, a Maryland resident, will make it official with an announcement Sunday, according to senior GOP officials quoted by several news organizations.

Keyes has run for Senate twice from Maryland, and sought the 2000 presidential nomination on a strong culturally conservative platform. He won few votes but some praise for his theatrical speaking style. He has until Election Day, Nov. 2, to establish residency in Illinois.

The Keyes bid is the latest turn in a race that has already had a few strange ones. The GOP vacancy is open because the party's original nominee, primary winner Jack Ryan, dropped out amid furor over his ex-wife's allegation in divorce papers that he pressured her to attend sex clubs.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama, who drew rave reviews with his convention keynote address last month, remains the overwhelming favorite in polls for election, but a Keyes candidacy would create a first: Never in a Senate race have both major party candidates been African Americans.

Quotable

"The one thing we can say about George W. Bush is we will be forever in his debt."

-- Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), after the administration's recent announcement that this year's deficit, an estimated $445 billion, will set a red-ink record.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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