A Stronger Kerry

As a presidential candidate who has been perceived as weak on the war on terrorism, it must be heartening to John Kerry that the Bush campaign plans to shift attention from Mr. Kerry's Vietnam credentials by focusing in the weeks ahead on his long Senate record - one which includes "very few signature achievements," as President Bush put it Friday.

That doesn't sound like a compliment, but in reality, it's a sign that even the White House recognizes Mr. Kerry gave a convincing performance as a potential commander in chief at the Democratic convention last week.

Convincing Americans that he could be a strong leader in war time was the senator's No. 1 goal at the convention. Endorsed by generals, and flanked by his Vietnam Swift boat crew mates, he portrayed himself as tough and resolute. He would not "hesitate" to use force when required; he would not let other countries or institutions "veto" US national security; he would protect Americans from a "real and imminent" threat.

Considering the division among Democrats over the Iraq war and policies like preemptive strikes, that was a bold stand to take. The fact that he could do it without setting off a convention floor fight speaks to his leadership, and the Democrats' intense desire to win the election.

Millions of Americans also had a chance last week to see a fuller picture of the Kerry character - a glossy portrait, to be sure, but one that rounded him out as a caring family man and trusted friend.

Kerry can claim "mission accomplished" for the convention phase of the presidential campaign, but now comes Phase II, when the plans that he laid out so generally in his speech come under intense scrutiny. Voters will want to know, and the Bush campaign will not hesitate to question, whether Kerry can actually pay for his proposals to expand healthcare coverage, make the middle-class tax cut permanent, and increase the number of active-duty troops. They will challenge the claim that America's allies will agree to do significantly more in Iraq - even with a new president. And then there's that thin-looking Senate career.

By the time of the debates - the next opportunity for Americans to tune in en masse - Kerry will have to provide convincing answers.

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