Iowa ’04: Kerry stumps out the competition

By Janine Kranz

DES MOINES—As the minutes trudged by, 1,500 John Kerry supporters waited for their chosen candidate at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Sunday. Three hundred of them stood shivering in an outdoor tent. In the grand tradition of political candidates, Kerry was an hour late to his own rally, and the highly energetic crowd found ways to entertain itself. The sight of Peter Jennings amid the media cluster created quite a stir among the people sitting in the bleachers, and they excitedly stood up and searched in the bright stage lights yelling, “Oh, I see him!” and “There he is!” Kerry campaigners in their bright yellow shirts did their part to occupy the crowd by leading the people in various rally mantras like “When I say President, you say Kerry! President! Kerry!” and “Who will caucus for Kerry? I will!”

In contrast to the smaller rallies of Kucinich and Edwards, which were held in coffee shops and student lounges, Kerry’s rally was covered extensively by the press. The audience, consisting mainly of middle-aged men and women, spilled out of the building. The chance to see their hoped-for president speak on the day before the first Democratic caucus was well worth the lengthy delay and frostbitten extremities.

The rally began with a long series of introductions to a variety of local officials. A local group of musical adolescents performed a drum number accompanied by dancing. Finally, Kerry took the stage with his wife, two daughters, and stepson, along with several supporters, including Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Vietnam veteran Jim Henson, former Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, and Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Just as Kerry supporters had to wait a long time for Kerry to take the stage, they also had to wait a long time to hear him speak, as he let both his family and supporters precede him. Among the many speakers, the most powerful were Kennedy and Henson. Kennedy, a lively and engaging speaker, opened with a couple of jokes about himself and his relation to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kennedy gave Kerry his full endorsement.

In contrast to the boisterous Kennedy, Henson gave a touching account of how Kerry rescued him in Vietnam during an attack on their platoon. Henson, a registered Republican in Oregon, said, “I’m switching parties so that I can vote for Kerry.”

After the series of introductory speeches, Kerry finally to delivered his address. While not as spirited a speaker as Kennedy, Kerry fed off of the energy of the crowd. Although he discussed a variety of issues, his main focus was on his desire to remove Bush from office. “George Bush is leading the United States in the wrong direction. We are here to end the Bush presidency,” he said.

Kerry talked about the usual voter concerns: the lack of funding for the No Child Left Behind act, the large amount of pollution caused by corporations, and diminishing Social Security funds. He also discussed America’s need to “recommit to science,” and promised, if elected, to ensure that by the year 2020, 20 percent of electricity will come from renewable energy sources. Kerry’s catch phrases, such as “Americans work for the economy, it’s time to make the economy work for Americans,” were well-received.

Kerry concluded his speech with his plans for Iraq. “Bush has run the most arrogant foreign policy in the history of the United States,” he said, arguing that American troops in the U.S. would be better off if they had support from troops of other nations. He promised to go to the U. N. and put the U.S. back in the world community. “I know what a real aircraft looks like,” Kerry boasted, “and when Bush is out of office we can stand up and say, ‘Mission accomplished.'”