Kerry claims world leaders want him to beat Bush
By Rupert Cornwell in Washington
09 March 2004
John Kerry dropped an early bombshell into the US election campaign yesterday by claiming some foreign leaders have already told him they want him to beat President George Bush in November.
His remark, at a fundraiser, drew a mocking response from the White House, where officials pointed out that "US voters, not foreign leaders, decide who becomes President." But it shows how foreign policy - usually a low ranking election issue here - may be front and centre of the battle this time around.
Mr Kerry named no names when he addressed a fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But said: "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'you've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy.'"
The all-but-certain Democratic nominee was in Florida ahead of primaries there and in three other Southern states today. After the withdrawal of Mr Kerry's sole remaining serious rival, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the results are a foregone conclusion - but Florida this autumn is likely to be as tightly contested as it was in 2000.
Four years ago, Al Gore lost the state - and with it the entire election - by 537 votes. Since Mr Kerry, in effect, clinched the nomination, separate polls have put each candidate ahead, with the most recent poll yesterday giving the Democrat a 49-43 per cent edge over Mr Bush.
Ralph Nader, who is trying to get on the ballot as an independent, is given 3 per cent, compared with the 2 per cent he took in Florida in 2000 when he ran as the Green party candidate.
Mr Kerry's latest sally underlines how his advisers have decided attack is the best means of defence in what many analysts expect to be one of the roughest campaigns in recent history.
Election day is still almost eight months off but Mr Kerry is campaigning as if it were next week - ripping into the President across the board, from domestic issues such as the economy and health care to the White House's handling of Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti.
But his dragging of unspecified foreign leaders into the fray could be risky. True, a much-noted global survey by the Pew Research Center last summer found countries in Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Islamic world dislike Mr Bush - and it was their main reason for unfavourable views of the US. But Republican strategists may use the senator's words to depict him as a virtual agent of other countries. There are bound to be insinuations that among the "foreign leaders" in question are those of France and Germany, still unpopular here after their opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
On the eve of that war, when Mr Kerry appeared the front-runner, White House aides were even letting it be known that he "looked French".
A survey by NPR radio yesterday found 63 per cent of Americans were "very interested" in the election - a higher figure than in comparable polls in the final week of the 2000 and 1996 elections.
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