JACKSON, Miss. — Taking his campaign to the heart of the deep South, Sen. John Kerry said Sunday he faces the same “politics of last resort” that confronted marchers seeking equality in the civil rights movement.
“We’re going to be tested, because they’ve got a lot of money and a lot of power,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said at a predominantly black church with veterans of the movement.
Kerry told supporters to brace for a wave of criticism from President Bush’s well-funded re-election campaign, much as civil rights marchers fought against entrenched opposition.
He spoke on the 39th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” clash in Selma, Ala., when state troopers used tear gas and billy clubs against activists marching over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Scenes from that episode galvanized the civil rights movement and within five months the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
'It won't be easy'
“If they could do that, if they could stand on that bridge, surely we can cross the rest of the bridges in this country that we need to,” said Kerry, as he tried to compare the struggles and rally black voters, an important Democratic constituency. Standing beside him was Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten in the ’Bloody Sunday’ march.
“It won’t be easy,” Kerry said. “You’ve lived with the attacks, the distortions and the hollowness of a politics of last resort that divides black from white, rich from poor, Massachusetts from Mississippi.”
Kerry was working his way through the four Southern states that hold nominating contests on Tuesday. He effectively locked up the Democratic nomination after a round of contests last week and has turned his attention to Bush.
He warned against efforts to distract the campaign debate from bedrock economic issues on which he disagrees with Bush. He also warned against attempts to divide the nation along racial lines.
A call to match words with deeds
“Some people want us pointing fingers at each other, so no one points the finger at them,” Kerry said. “We can do better than that in this campaign.”
Kerry sprinkled his remarks with scriptural references calling for matching faith with deeds.
“We need to remember those words as we march forward against a sorry politics where too often words suffice, where deeds aren’t demanded,” said Kerry, ridiculing promises Bush made during the last election.
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“Remember ‘a uniter, not a divider’? ‘Compassionate conservative’?” Kerry said.
During his trips through the South, Kerry has focused on economic issues like jobs. But he also has drawn differences with Bush in the handling of the war in Iraq.
Kerry to Iraq?
Kerry told Time Magazine that he “almost certainly” will ask advisers to travel to Iraq “within the next few weeks or months” to give him an independent assessment of the situation there. He named, as potential members of that group, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., policy adviser Rand Beers and Senate aide Nancy Stetson.
Reuters reported Sunday that Kerry left open the possibility of making a trip to Iraq before the Nov. 2 presidential election but said he wanted to avoid any “sense of politicization.”
The four-term Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran said he would prefer to have a group of Congressional colleagues -- Democrats and Republicans -- assess the situation in Iraq to help him formulate policy.
“I don’t have the power to ’send’ people, but as a U.S. senator and the essential nominee of the party ... I do have a responsibility to get the best information possible,” he told reporters in Jackson.
Critics say Kerry has tried to have it both ways on the war, first by voting to authorize the use of force and then opposing the conduct of the war as a candidate for president. Kerry argues that Bush lacked a clear plan for the war and its aftermath, and says he has warned against that. “I was ahead of the curve about what the difficulties were,” Kerry said.
Kerry was ending his swing Monday in Florida. His return to the south came amidf the success of last Tuesday's near-sweep of states in the Super Tuesday primaries. Kerry drove his last major competitor, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, out of the race. Kerry said he planned to meet with Edwards and one-time Democratic front-runner Howard Dean. Aides said the session with Dean would probably take place this week in Washington.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.