Kerry's 'Strong Image' May Need Strengthening

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

( - As Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry prepared Thursday to accept his party's nomination for president, the campaign was boasting that he already "enjoys a strong image with voters."

But judging from an unscientific sampling of Americans on the Capitol Mall Thursday, Kerry's name recognition and/or image may have more to do with his experience in Vietnam 35 years ago than his most recent 20 years as a U.S. senator.

Eighteen-year old Nicole Hassoun from Northern Virginia, was aware that Kerry had served in Vietnam and had been awarded combat medals, but said she was impressed to learn the extent to which Kerry was honored. He received three purple hearts, a silver star and a bronze star.

Julie Donati of Houston, Texas, said she was aware that Kerry commanded a boat in Vietnam. Michelle Wanichko from Annapolis, Md., said she knew Kerry was "active in the service," and didn't know anything "negatively notable" about his activities after the war. Many Vietnam veterans believe Kerry betrayed them when he returned to the United States by serving as the spokesman for an anti-war group and testifying before Congress on the subject.

R.G. Bice of Dallas, Texas, said he was around when Kerry got back from Vietnam. "I was kind of anti-Jane Fonda and Kerry at the time they were active (in anti-war activities)," he said. "So, I have very little admiration for him."
Bice was one of the few interviewed by who were unaware of Kerry's activities during the war. "I don't know what he did during the war. He wasn't there very long," Bice said.

'He's got a gutsy wife'

Kerry's wife may have helped establish his name recognition. Pam Friday of Baltimore, Md., noted that Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry is much more outgoing than current First Lady Laura Bush.

"I noticed he's got a gusty wife and I like that," Friday said. "We could use a gutsy First Lady." She referred to the recent incident in which Heinz Kerry told a reporter to "shove it."

Julie Donati also appeared more impressed with Mrs. Kerry when she was asked about the Democratic candidate. "He's married to the woman who inherited the Heinz fortune," Donati said.

Bill, a Washington, D.C., resident who didn't want to give his last name, said Kerry comes across as "a caring man, but a little stiff."

Others interviewed seemed to know Kerry was a liberal Democrat. But they had difficulty mentioning examples. However, Thomas Harlock of Culpepper, Va., was an exception. Kerry "believes in abortion and ... believes it's alright for men and men to marry and women and women to marry," Harlock said.

Kerry, who is a Catholic, does have a pro-abortion voting record, but he recently told reporters that he believes life begins at conception. On the issue of homosexual marriage, Kerry has said he feels the decision should be left up to the states.

Pam Friday wasn't so much interested in Kerry's political positions as in helping to defeat President Bush. "I just know I'm going to vote for anybody but Bush," she said. "If he was Mickey Mouse I'd vote for him because he's not Bush."

Friday said she "hasn't really paid attention" to Kerry's specific policies.

Most of those interviewed had similar problems describing Kerry's positions on abortion, homosexual marriage, the economy and the war in Iraq.

"I don't know very much about [Kerry's] platform or what he's running on," Nicole Hassoun said. But, she added, "I know I don't like him (President Bush)."

Lisette Baylor of Washington, D.C., said she also "wants to get Bush out of office," even while admitting she knew little about Kerry's specific policies.

Richard Johnson of Oklahoma, said he knows "very little" about Kerry's policies. "He really hasn't put out much of a platform. He's done more criticizing than [defining] a prospective future."

Falls Church, Va., resident Lowell Hunter said Kerry has "got a ways to go" in order to become well known across America. Hunter said he was "interested to see what [Kerry] has to say tonight" in accepting the Democratic nomination for president.

Michelle Wanichko couldn't rattle off any specifics about Kerry. "I haven't read my whole packet on him," she admitted. However, she added, "We've already been to one of his rallies in our community. We got a bunch of bumper stickers and we're voting for him."

Karen Bartman of Allentown, Pa., said she felt like she hasn't been given enough information on Kerry's positions. "I know bits and pieces," she said, "but I just don't feel I really know bottom line philosophies and ideas."

Bartman admitted that her lack of knowledge could be her own fault. "I'm pro-Bush so maybe I don't really want to know," she said.

Jane Stephens of Jacksonville, Fla., said she doesn't really think the Kerry campaign has done a great job presenting the candidate. "Talking heads is mostly where you learn everything from," she said.

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