Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader

Friday, January 30, 2004

Our View: Kerry best Democrat to beat Bush

Foreign policy and finances give him edge.

For Missouri Democrats hoping to see President George W. Bush defeated in November, the choice in Tuesday's primary election is between two candidates: Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts or John Edwards of North Carolina.

The other top contenders, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, have lost or failed to ever gain the kind of momentum Democrats need to compete against Bush.

Dean's erratic behavior -- evidenced not only by his infamous scream, but more importantly his vacillation on policy questions -- has hurt him. And despite Clark's military record, party faithfuls still distrust his recent Democratic conversion.

Kerry and Edwards hold similar views on most issues. Both want to repeal Bush's tax cut for the most wealthy and invest in job creation. Both have plans to provide money for higher education and increase fuel efficiency standards. They oppose school vouchers and support abortion rights.

Edwards is the more charismatic of the two, as he demonstrated in a visit to Springfield. Between the two, he's probably the one most people would rather invite to dinner.

But most voters don't select a president based on a fantasy dinner date. Particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, they want a president who can keep this country safe. Bush gets high scores for that.

For Democratic voters intent on unseating Bush, they must consider electability. And based on what is known now, we give the edge to Kerry.

Kerry has solid foreign policy experience, a must for any serious 2004 presidential contender. Not only has he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry is a decorated Vietnam War hero who first gained notoriety in Washington 30 years ago as an articulate spokesman against the war. Kerry's Bronze Star, Silver Star and three Purple Hearts stand in sharp contrast to Bush's sketchy National Guard record.

Kerry has also distinguished himself as being more open than Edwards.

Edwards, unlike all his other rivals, has refused to disclose the list of his biggest campaign contributors, those who work to secure large sums of contributions from others. And when senators were asked how they would have voted on the measure to allocate $87 billion for post-war Iraq reconstruction (which was surreptitiously passed last year without a roll call vote) Kerry said he would have voted no. Edwards wouldn't say.

Furthermore, Kerry is certain to have the money it will take to challenge Bush and his fund-raising prowess. Kerry, unlike Edwards, opted out of the federal matching money program, allowing him to raise funds without limits, just as Bush has done. It is an unfortunate reality, but for the Democrats to have a chance they must at least come close to what Bush raises and spends.

Voters deserve a real choice in November. Kerry is the Democratic candidate most likely to provide it.

Copyright © 2004 Springfield News-Leader.  Reprinted by Permission.  (Robert Leger 02/25/04)

Decision was made by an editorial board consisting of publisher Thomas A. Bookstaver, executive editor David Ledford, managing editor Cheryl Whitsitt, editorial page editor Robert Leger and associate editorial page editor Jennifer Portman.