Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry visited vote-rich eastern Iowa on Saturday with fellow Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who called Kerry the most credible Democrat in the race.
Kerry is “full of steel and determination,” Kennedy told people in a Davenport meeting hall, one of several stops on a hectic day of statewide campaigning by presidential hopefuls. “Those are the qualities that I want in my Democratic nominee.”
Candidates and their high-profile supporters spread across Iowa on Saturday, just nine days before its kickoff caucuses. Polls showed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean retaining his front-runner status in the state but rivals Dick Gephardt close behind and Kerry running third.
Among the high-profile events planned Saturday was a rally in Dubuque featuring Dean and former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Tom Harkin, who boosted the Dean campaign with his endorsement Friday.
Gephardt defends tax stance
Gephardt, the Missouri congressman, was in the state defending his call to repeal all of President Bush’s tax cut to pay for his expanded health care proposal. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina unveiled a plan he said would lift 10 million Americans out of poverty.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich also campaigned here Saturday as Iowans considered who among the nine candidates to support in the nation’s first test of Democratic hopefuls.
Kerry, claiming his campaign is designed to “offer America hope,” urged activists to focus on more than the emotions Dean is stirring.
“We need to offer not just anger, but answers,” Kerry said. “We need to offer not just slogans, but solutions.”
Kennedy said he has known Kerry since 1971 and assured supporters that “I don’t come to Iowa to talk about someone I don’t know.”
Kerry, a decorated war veteran, contended he is the strongest candidate to oppose President Bush during a time of war.
'Bring it on'
“If he wants to make national security a central issue of this campaign, I have for him only three words he understands: Bring it on,” Kerry said.
Kerry said he would scour the tax code to wipe out benefits for the wealthiest Americans, but would continue to keep the middle-class tax cuts in place. Gephardt has come under fire from Kerry and other rivals for pushing to repeal even portions of the tax cut that helps middle-class families.
Visiting a farm owned by a couple he said is struggling with enormous health care costs, Gephardt said they had received just $375 under Bush’s tax cut but would gain $1,129 a year under his proposal.
“My health care plan will put more money on the kitchen table of middle-class families than George Bush’s failed tax cut,” Gephardt said. “I also guarantee every family access to quality health care.”
Edwards told Iowans his plan would help 80,000 people in the state by increasing the earned income tax credit, reducing the marriage tax penalty for the working poor, and increasing the refundable childcare credit by up to $450. Staffers didn’t put a price tag on the plan.
“I believe that our country has a moral responsibility to ensure that Americans who are working hard and playing by the rules” can enjoy a middle-class lifestyle, Edwards said. “We will help families join the middle class.”