Dec 042002
Authors: Becky Waddingham

Election day is always the first Tuesday in November, and we vote for president every four years.

Only a few people in Washington seem to understand that. As a result, the election cycle begins earlier and earlier each time. It’s because of the insane amounts of money candidates must raise in order to mount a campaign with any hope. So with the end of every election, the drumbeat for the next one starts ever sooner.

Massachusetts Sen. John Forbes Kerry – a charismatic, stately Democratic senator with the initials J.F.K., who hails from the Bay State – recently stuck his finger into the proverbial presidential wind, signaling the beginning of a serious run for the White House. But the best-coiffed man in Washington has a long way to go to overcome the name recognition, appeal (I swear, it’s still there) and support of Al Gore.

So who is this JFK who would be JFK? What do we know about a man that could very well be our future president?

John F. Kerry was born Dec. 11, 1943 at Fitzsimmons Military Hospital down the road on I-25 in Denver. He returned shortly thereafter to Massachusetts, though, so the 6-foot-5 senator doesn’t quite call Colorado home.

Kerry graduated from Yale University and served in the United States Navy during Vietnam, coming home a decorated veteran in 1969. Kerry promptly became a war protester, co-founding the Vietnam Veterans of America and becoming a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. VVAW became well-known for members who memorably flung their medals at the steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest.

On April 23, 1971, Kerry delivered a now-infamous speech before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denouncing the war and its “winter soldiers” – a term that comes from Thomas Paine’s condemnation of the “summer patriots” who deserted at Valley Forge in 1776 when the going was rough.

Kerry recounted the horrible experiences he underwent and heard about in South Vietnam and insisted, “There is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life … is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy.”

In a statement that became emblematic for anti-war Americans, Kerry asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Thirteen years later, Kerry won election to the Senate. He won his fourth term a month ago with more than 80 percent of the vote, a substantial increase from the 52 percent he won in 1996.

As is typical inside the Beltway, Kerry presidential whispers have been circulating for months. Good friend (and Republican) John McCain has even supported the idea. At a Capitol luncheon in May, McCain shouted “Kerry for President!” as his counterpart left a room. The Arizona senator was kidding, but the two are certainly close political allies, working together on legislation to reduce energy consumption and block drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The political and personal relationship between Kerry and the Senate’s other boisterous, magnetic Vietnam veteran led some in Washington this summer (yours truly included) to ask about a possible Kerry-McCain or McCain-Kerry presidential ticket. The two have both scoffed at the idea.

But they have much in common – both men are distinguished ex-Naval officers who hold the Silver and Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, and worked together, despite their differing opinions on the Vietnam war, to re-open relations with the South Asian nation in 1990.

In a Washington Post poll last week, Democratic voters were asked which candidates they would vote for – Al Gore took 49 percent of them, while Kerry squeaked in with a mere 6 percent. But he has some major factors in his favor. He is married to Teresa Heinz, the widow of Sen. John Heinz (who died in office, just like Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, when his small plane crashed) and is therefore married to $600 million in ketchup money.

Also in Kerry’s favor: the 2004 Democratic National Convention will be held in his hometown, Boston.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, S.D., once dubbed Kerry “the tall Dukakis.” This pointed joke about the Democrats’ other Bay State non-Kennedy may signal Democrats’ fear about nominating him for president – he might not be strong enough to beat an incredibly popular and conservative Republican incumbent.

But then again, the election’s still two years away. And who’s really counting yet?

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