John Kerry was born on December 11, 1943, in Denver, Colorado. He is married to Theresa Heinz Kerry – from the Heinz family and they have two children and three stepchildren. The family are Catholic. Kerry went to Yale University in 1966 and joined the US Navy in the same year. He served in the Navy until 1969 and was sent to Vietnam where he served as a patrol leader in the extremely dangerous Mekong Delta region. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. After leaving the Navy, Kerry became an attorney and served as an Assistant District Attorney between 1977 and 1982. In 1984, Kerry was voted in as a Senator and he was re-elected in 1990, 1996 and 2002.
Kerry formally launched his presidential campaign in December 2002. He has been a national political figure ever since. However, he achieved national fame in 1971 when he was one of the organizers of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971. ”How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?” he asked in his Congressional testimony.
He ran for Congress in 1972, but lost in a district carried by the right-wing politician, George McGovern. Following the defeat, he went to law school, worked as a prosecutor .
In 1984, he won a competitive race for US Senator – and fended off a tough re-election challenge from libertarian Governor Bill Weld (R) in 1996. Generally a solid liberal, Kerry also supports free trade. On military issues, Kerry supported the bombing of Bosnia in 1999 and the “War on Terrorism”.
He opposed the constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning. Working with John McCain (a Democrat presidential candidate in 2000), he successfully worked to normalize relations with Vietnam in the 1990s.
He has supported some education reforms opposed by the teacher unions (like ending tenure and allowing lateral entry into teaching). He also supported some direct federal grants for faith-based charities.
Kerry favoured Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China (a nation condemned by Amnesty International for its human rights abuses) and led the Senate floor fight against the amendment that would have required an American review of China’s human rights practices. He also sponsored a bill to commit $100 million yearly to a fund to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. In 1995, he married Teresa Heinz (widow of Republican Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania), who inherited his fortune of more than $600 million.
That now makes Kerry the richest member of Congress with $675 million (though he says he will not spend it on this campaign – “It’s my wife’s money, not mine.”). Kerry flirted with making a run for President against Al Gore in 2000 – and several key Massachusetts politicians endorsed Gore early to send Kerry a message that it wasn’t his year to run. Still, Kerry made the short list of Gore vice-presidential running mates in 2000.
Kerry’s biggest downside is his perceived cold, patrician demeanour. However, this perception mellowed during the Democrat primaries in 2004.
It is generally thought that Kerry works hard and is bright, but is said to lack a common touch and warmth. However, he won an easy Senate re-election in 2002 and had millions leftover unspent to transfer into his Presidential campaign account.
With his financial donor base – and with New Hampshire in his backyard (and sharing Boston’s media market), Kerry and Howard Dean started as early favourites in the important New Hampshire primary. Gore’s departure also clearly bumped Kerry into the “first tier” of candidates, though Howard Dean was seen as the Democrats favourite.
In fact, with Gore out of the race, he was viewed as the early frontrunner. Dean’s campaign frequently and derisively referred to Kerry as “The Anointed One”, and Dean passed Kerry in national and key state polls.
After those exchanges, Kerry openly displayed a dislike of Dean on a personal level. Kerry’s somewhat ambivalent views on the Iraq conflict caused him some problems with liberal voters. Of a greater concern to Kerry was that Dean emerged by late spring 2003 as the leading liberal contender – and by summer 2003 as the frontrunner in general in polls from Iowa, New Hampshire, and California, and in the important race for money.
The entry of General Wesley Clark, another Vietnam War combat veteran and a former commander of NATO, into the race also initially hurt Kerry to some degree by further splitting the anti-Dean opposition. However, Clark’s campaign essentially fizzled out. In an effort to revive his candidacy, Kerry fired campaign manager Jim Jordan and brought in political operative Mary Beth Cahill to run the operation in November 2003.
Kerry’s success in overcoming Dean may have been more to do with Dean’s failings as opposed to Kerry fighting a successful campaign. Dean came across as a man who felt success in the Democrat primaries was his for the taking. For many, his apparent arrogance was unacceptable and once the primaries went against Dean, he was labelled a ‘loser’ and once that had happened, it carried its own momentum. Kerry, on the other hand, having started out as a ‘winner’, found it much easier to maintain his momentum as a winner. In America, success in the first few primaries is vital to avoid being labelled a failure, whereas victory leads to more victories – as Kerry experienced.
Can Kerry win the November election?
- His biggest weakness is that he will be running against an incumbent president who has $200 million (June 2004 figure) in his election campaign chest – Kerry has about $100.
- He will also have to be very careful about what he says about his involvement in Vietnam. There are presently issues surrounding whether he destroyed his medals as he claimed. His past will be minutely dissected by the media and the Republicans. If there are any skeletons in his closet, there is every chance they will be found out. Certainly, his marriage has been a target for comment.
Are Americans willing to risk a change in leader during the “War on Terrorism”? Rallying around a president in a time of need is very common in US politics – regardless of whether you support his policies or not.