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Kerry Changes Tactics and Recasts Campaign (posted Sept. 3, 2004)

Following weeks of gloves-on treatment of President George W. Bush, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has taken the gloves off. Hours after a Republican convention that spent all week questioning his fitness and vision for office, Kerry held a midnight rally where he denounced GOP attacks on him and said "I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq."

The sharp response represents a major change in tactics for the Democratic contender and the start of a much more confrontational phase of the campaign. At their convention in Boston, Democrats prided themselves on being nice to President Bush and not being too negative in their attacks. However, with state and national public opinion polls showing Bush edging up to a two-point margin over Kerry and with Republicans having spent a week attacking Kerry's fitness for serving as Commander-in-Chief, Kerry clearly has decided to go on the attack.

In addition to striking back at Bush and Vice President Cheney, Kerry criticized the administration for its close ties to Halliburton and the Saudi royal family. "Handing out billions in government contracts without a bid to Halliburton while you're still on their payroll makes you unfit," Kerry complained.

With eight weeks left until Election Day, look for this campaign to become very negative and very personal between the two camps. Nearly 90 percent of voters have made up their minds, so the swing vote is down to single digits. Whatever marginal issue or event moves a couple of percentage points one way or the other will be decisive. Kerry needs to get the race back to bread and butter issues, such as education, health care, and the economy. It is unlikely he can beat Bush on security or terrorism issues. Democrats traditionally have done well when they stick to domestic issues. If in the next few weeks, Kerry has to spend more time discussing the Vietnam War instead of the Iraq War and the domestic economy, it will not be good news for him.