Updated: 06:59 AM EDT
Kerry Files Suit Against Ads Challenging His War Record
FORT MYERS, Fla. (Aug. 20) - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry asked the Federal Election Commission on Friday to force Republican critics to withdraw ads challenging his military service, and accused the Bush campaign of illegally helping coordinate the attacks.
The Kerry campaign said it filed the complaint against the group behind the ads, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, "for violating the law with inaccurate ads that are illegally coordinated with the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign and Republican National Committee."
The campaign said there is "overwhelming evidence" that the group is coordinating its spending on advertising and other activities with the President George W. Bush's campaign for reelection.
Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel denied any coordination with the Swift Boat group, called it "a frivolous complaint."
Bush and a top adviser have long-standing ties to people behind the advertisements, which claim Kerry lied about his Vietnam War service record, but the campaign denies any part in the ads themselves.
The White House has declined to specifically condemn the Swift Boat commercials. It has instead challenged Kerry to join Bush in calling for an end to all ads funded by unrestricted donations, including those questioning Bush's service in the United States in the National Guard during the Vietnam War.
Attacks on Kerry's war record may be beginning to have an impact, polls suggest, amid raised voices and new TV ads on a subject at least temporarily dominating debate in the close presidential race.
Democrats are laboring to deflect the questioning of Kerry's record with fresh ads touting his fitness for national command, even as the White House mocks the Massachusetts senator as "losing his cool'' over claims he lied to win military medals in Vietnam.
Kerry wasn't going to let such claims pass, spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter shot back on Friday, saying "John Kerry is a fighter and he doesn't tolerate lies from others.''
The anti-Kerry group that provoked the furor with a recent commercial distributed a second ad to the news media and said it would begin airing it next week in Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Mexico. The ad mixes clips of a youthful Kerry talking about war atrocities in testimony to Congress in 1971 with images of veterans condemning his remarks.
The intense late-August back-and-forth underscored the closeness of the race for the White House and came as polls offered the first hint that the questioning of Kerry's medal-winning service in the Vietnam War - allegations that he strongly condemned this week as lies - were taking a political toll.
One poll found that more than half the voters questioned had seen or heard of an ad by Swift Boat Veterans For Truth that accused Kerry of lying about events that earned him five medals a generation ago. The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey also found that 44 percent of self-described independent voters found the ad at least somewhat believable.
Separately, a CBS poll found a sharp drop in Kerry's support among veterans since the end of the Democratic National Convention that highlighted his war record.
Polls after the convention indicated Kerry had made considerable progress toward the campaign's goal of establishing him as a battle-tested veteran ready to assume command in an era of terrorism. Several veterans who served with him have campaigned alongside him, strongly supporting his combat record and calling him a hero.
In a new commercial that officials said was filmed Thursday, the Democratic Party showed retired Air Force Gen. Merrill A. McPeak saying he had endorsed President Bush four years ago but was backing Kerry now.
"Nothing is more important to me than protecting America,'' says McPeak, a fighter pilot in Vietnam who rose to become Air Force chief of staff during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. "John Kerry has the strength and common sense we need in a commander in chief.''
What They're Saying
"We have a guy who started out fabricating us as war criminals, fabricating even himself as war criminals. He has now moved on to fabricating himself as a war hero."
-- John O'Neill, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
"[Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is] a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the president won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work.''-- John Kerry
"That charge leveled by Senator Kerry is absolutely and completely false. The Bush campaign has never and will never question John Kerry's service in Vietnam."
-- Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt
"Senator Kerry is justifiably proud of his record in Vietnam, and he should be."-- President Bush
"Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: 'Bring it on.'" -- John Kerry
Sources: ABCNews.com, AP, Reuters
That message is sharply at odds with the image portrayed in the anti-Kerry ad that the nominee denounced Thursday when he said Bush was relying on front groups to "do his dirty work.''
"I do think that Senator Kerry losing his cool should not be an excuse for him to lash out at the president with false and baseless attacks,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, Texas, on Friday.
"We've already said we weren't involved in any way in these ads,'' he said. "We've made that clear.''
Kerry's campaign then trumpeted a political flier from Florida advertising a "pro-USA political rally'' that appeared to show the veterans' group and the local Bush-Cheney campaign as sponsors.
Campaigns often file complaints with the FEC, but the commission rarely intervenes quickly enough to alter the course of a race.
Records show that Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder who is helping to finance the anti-Kerry commercials, was well-enough known to Bush to earn an invitation to visit the then-Texas governor.
"I hope all goes well with you,'' Bush said in an April 15, 1997, letter. "Should you ever come to Austin, please come by and say hello.''
Bush wrote in response to a letter asking him to veto legislation that would have placed new restrictions on title companies if it made it out of the Legislature.
08-21-04 06:42 EDT
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