Thursday, September 25, 2003

"The candidate who stood out was Senator John Kerry"

Kerry managed some memorable moments
By Scott Lehigh, The Boston Globe - 9/26/03

Yesterday's Democratic presidential debate was a chance for viewers to sample the latest flavor of the month in the field.

Which may not be such good news for that self-same flavor, for what in the abstract has been billed as General Democratic Delight seemed on stage a lot more like generic vanilla.

Now, granted, Wesley Clark has been in the race for less than 10 days, so perhaps just avoiding a big mistake counts as success.

Still, in a discussion that focused on the economy, Clark had little noteworthy to add.

Instead, the candidate who stood out was Senator John Kerry.

With 10 candidates in a rhetorical face-off, it's hard to turn in a memorable moment. Kerry had several. He drew an important distinction between himself and front-running Howard Dean, asserting that the former Vermont governor's plan to repeal all of President Bush's tax cuts would raise rates on millions of middle-class 0earners -- and retard the very consumer spending that has sustained what recovery we've seen.

In critiquing US Representative Richard Gephardt's health care program, Kerry raised a red flag about its cost -- almost $250 billion -- contrasting it with own more modest plan to contain costs by taking the most expensive cases out of the insurance pool. Dean, who found himself under attack for a good deal of the evening, displayed some winning humor but emerged from the night marked up some. His best moment may have come when he contrasted his record as a governor and a doer with the legislative talkers who make up most of the field.

Senator John Edwards also had a pretty good afternoon, using his boyhood family as an example of the kinds of people who would be hurt if all the Bush tax cuts are reversed.

Gephardt played hard for union support, particularly on trade, but early in the night he got himself into an angry, arm-waving mode that seemed more than a little contrived. So did his over-the-top attack on Dean for past critical comments about Medicare.

The tax difference Kerry outlined marks a basic cleavage among the serious candidates, with Kerry, Clark, Edwards, and Senator Joe Lieberman supporting only a partial repeal of the Bush tax cuts and Dean and Gephardt favoring entire repeal.

Look for that split to play an ever more important role as the campaign continues.


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