Sen. John Kerry (D)
Elected: 1984, term expires 2014, 5th term.
Born: Dec. 11, 1943, Aurora, CO .
Education: Yale U., A.B. 1966, Boston Col., LL.B. 1976.
Family: Married (Teresa Heinz); 5 children.
Military career: Navy, 1966–70 (Vietnam), Naval Reserves, 1970–78.
Elected office: MA lt. gov., 1982–84.
Professional Career: Organizer, Vietnam Veterans Against the War; Asst. Dist. Atty., Middlesex Cnty., 1976–81; Practicing atty., 1981–82.
John Kerry, Massachusetts’ senior senator, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a figure in national politics since 1971. The son of a Foreign Service officer, he grew up all over the world and attended boarding school in Switzerland. He graduated from Yale University in 1966 and, after exploring alternatives, enlisted in the Navy. He served on a swift boat in Vietnam—hazardous duty—and was awarded a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. Once home, Kerry’s disillusionment with America’s role in the war led to a period of activism, and in the early 1970s, he became one of the leaders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He attracted much attention for his eloquence and for his cosmopolitan background, unusual for a Vietnam veteran. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971, he famously stated: ‘‘How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?’’ He condemned “war crimes committed in Southeast Asia,” which, he said, were “not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” Kerry became familiar enough to be featured in Doonesbury and plunged quickly into politics. He moved to Lowell, Mass., and ran for a U.S. House seat in 1972, but lost to the Republican in a district carried by Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern that year. Chastened, he went to law school and became an assistant district attorney for Middlesex County. He was elected lieutenant governor on a ticket with Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1982, and ran for senator in 1984. In both races, he upset a favored rival for the Democratic nomination.
|John Kerry (D)||1,971,974||(66%)||($12,279,425)|
|Jeffrey Beatty (R)||926,044||(31%)||($2,070,528)|
|Robert Underwood (Lib)||93,713||(3%)|
|John Kerry (D)||342,446||(69%)|
|Edward O'Reilly (D)||154,395||(31%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (80%), 1996 (52%), 1990 (57%), 1984 (55%)
Kerry came to the Senate with a reputation as a strong liberal but has had a somewhat less liberal record than the state’s other, more senior senator, Edward Kennedy, who died of brain cancer in August 2009. For some years, Kerry seemed respectful of economic free markets and more inclined to support an expansive U.S. foreign and military policy. In his first 20 years in the Senate, Kerry was not a visibly active legislator (the website factcheck.org reported during the 2004 presidential campaign that only 11 of his bills became law), and was arguably more influential behind the scenes. One reason may have been the prominence of Kennedy, who was front and center in a number of legislative arenas, as well as in Massachusetts causes, and did not invite junior colleagues to play on his turf.
Kerry made his name more as an investigator, spending some time up blind alleys but also producing some important information. As the chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, Narcotics, and Terrorism, he investigated the infamous Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal. Kerry’s other great investigation was as chairman of the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, which probed whether Americans were left behind in Vietnam. Kerry and Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire went to Vietnam to do their own investigation, and ultimately concluded that there was “no compelling evidence that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.’’ By May 1995, Kerry and fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were convinced that Hanoi was fully cooperating and, aware they had standing on the issue, convinced President Bill Clinton to normalize relations with Vietnam. Kerry has remained close with McCain, except during the heat of presidential campaigns, and also with other Vietnam veterans in the Senate, namely Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey (1988-2000) and Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel (1996-2008).
When Clinton was president, Kerry took some interesting positions on issues that put him at odds with Democratic interest groups. He supported the balanced-budget amendment and voted for the welfare overhaul of 1996. In 1998, he decried the ‘‘implosion’’ of public education and said it was caused not just by overcrowded classrooms but also by the ‘‘stifling bureaucracy’’ of school systems. His list of reforms, co-sponsored with Oregon Republican Gordon Smith, included proposals strongly opposed by the teachers’ unions—important backers of the Democratic Party—such as ending teacher tenure, changing certification requirements to end the education-school monopoly, and allowing lateral entry into teaching. He favored normalizing trade relations with China and led the floor fight against the Thompson-Torricelli amendment, which would have required review of China’s human rights practices. Kerry also spoke out strongly in favor of the bombing of Serbia in 1999.
After Republican George W. Bush became president, Kerry turned to sharp-edged opposition to administration policy. The Bush tax cut, he said, was “unfair, unaffordable, and unquestionably ineffective in growing our economy.” On the environment, he was one of the most outspoken opponents of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and threatened to filibuster the bill. He criticized the administration for its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, although he was one of 95 senators who voted in 1997 to reject Kyoto so long as it exempted developing nations like China and India, a main feature of the treaty then and now. On foreign policy, he criticized the administration for letting Afghan troops take the lead in Tora Bora in late 2001, and said that may have allowed Qaeda and Taliban leaders to escape. Despite considerable criticism of administration policy on Iraq, he voted for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002 but said shortly afterward, “I’m going to keep asking tough questions to hold the president accountable for his promise to insist on arms inspections first, act multilaterally, and only go to war as a last resort.”
Like many senators, Kerry long harbored presidential ambitions. But in February 1999, with Clinton obviously smoothing the way for then-Vice President Al Gore, Kerry announced he would not run in 2000. There were no such obstacles in his way in 2004. He had an additional advantage: money. His wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, inherited $600 million when her first husband, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. John Heinz, died in a 1991 plane crash. Her net worth in 2004 was estimated at around $1 billion, making Kerry one of the richest members of Congress. (In 1996, when Kerry was fending off a challenge to his Senate seat by Republican William Weld, he borrowed $1.9 million against the couple’s assets. Later, in 2003, when he was trailing Howard Dean in the polls in the presidential contest, Kerry borrowed $6.4 million against his share of their Beacon Hill townhouse.)
In early 2003, Kerry entered the presidential race as the favorite to win the nomination. But by July, he was trailing in the polls far behind Dean, whose outspoken opposition to the Iraq war attracted the left wing of the Democratic electorate and whose innovative use of the Internet generated an unprecedented number of small contributions. Kerry, who had voted for the war, began to criticize Bush’s conduct of it, often in harsh terms. At year’s end, he was still behind. Then, in mid-January 2004, Dean’s poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire started dropping. Well organized in Iowa and well known in New Hampshire, Kerry was the Democrat best positioned to fill the vacuum. His record in Vietnam, he suggested, would protect him against criticisms that he was too soft on foreign and military policy. “Bring it on!” he said at the end of his speeches. He won a solid though not overwhelming victory in the Iowa caucuses and, eight days later, an impressive victory in New Hampshire, the one state where primary turnout zoomed upward. Kerry won all the primaries but three and clinched the Democratic nomination on March 2, exactly eight months before the general election.
As early as May, pollster John Zogby said the election was “Kerry’s to lose.” The Kerry campaign raised far more money than anyone expected, and was helped as well by outside organizations that spent more than $200 million to defeat Bush. Bush’s job approval hovered under 50%, and he trailed Kerry in polls for much of the seven-month campaign. Kerry performed well in debates, being judged the winner in snap polls in all three. Yet he lost. One reason may have been encapsulated by his March 16 defense of his 2003 vote against the supplemental appropriation for Iraq: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” The Bush campaign painted Kerry as a flip-flopper, and in fact he has had a propensity, common in politicians, to try to please those on all sides of an issue. More important, he was trying to rally a Democratic Party split between fiercely anti-war Bush haters and moderate Democrats who hoped for the best in Iraq but preferred a Democrat to Bush on most issues. Second, the credential which the Kerry campaign emphasized at the Democratic National Convention, his decorated service in Vietnam, was undermined by the ads and book sponsored by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Kerry had claimed—in the Boston Herald in 1979, on the Senate floor in 1986, and to the Associated Press in 1992—to have served on secret missions in Cambodia in the Christmas season of 1968. But those claims were withdrawn by his campaign in August, and no one, including the boat mates who supported him, came forward to corroborate his additional claim to have served in Cambodia in later months.
Finally, Kerry was vulnerable to attack as a Massachusetts liberal. The Bush campaign highlighted his rating by National Journal as the No. 1 liberal in the Senate in 2003—arguably unfairly, since he skipped many roll-call votes that year while campaigning for president. However, National Journal had ranked him as the 11th-most-liberal senator in the course of his career, well to the left of the midpoint. And the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s legalization in May 2004 of same-sex marriage provided a vivid illustration of the difference between opinion in Massachusetts and majority opinion in the rest of the country. Democratic voter-turnout efforts were successful. Kerry won 59 million votes, 16% more than Gore and the second-highest total in American history. But Republican voter-turnout efforts were even more successful. Bush won 62 million votes, 23% more than he had four years earlier, and he won the popular vote 51%-48%.
His disappointment at losing was matched only by that of the many Massachusetts politicians who were longing to run for the Senate. The state has not had an open Senate seat since Kerry secured his 1984, and before that, since 1966.
Kerry in 2005 was the first senator to return to the Senate as a defeated presidential nominee since South Dakota Democrat George McGovern in 1973. He proceeded to stake out stands on important issues. He proposed a Kids First bill, to provide health insurance for every child. Kennedy, to whom he had usually deferred on health care issues, agreed to be the lead co-sponsor. He followed up with a proposal that would require all Americans to have health insurance by 2012. In a 2006 speech in Boston, he called for reducing oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels a day by 2015, and for sharp decreases in carbon dioxide emissions to address global warming. Kerry supported the Bush administration on one foreign-policy issue in 2006, the agreement on India’s civilian nuclear program, provided it pushed India to agree to international standards for safeguarding civilian nuclear plants. But he increasingly opposed the administration’s course in Iraq. In June 2006, as the Senate considered an amendment calling for redeployments from Iraq with no set date, Kerry and Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin insisted on bringing up an amendment to withdraw all combat forces by July 2007. It was defeated 86-13.
Kerry’s course during 2005 and 2006—his continued sharp criticisms of the administration, his new proposals on major issues, his heavy travel and fundraising schedule in support of Democratic candidates—suggested he was interested in running for president again in 2008. Criticized by some Democrats for having left $15 million in his presidential account long after the 2004 election was over, he contributed more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and the national Democratic campaign committees. Of his 2002 vote for the Iraq resolution, he wrote on the left-wing Huffington Post blog, “There’s nothing—nothing—in my life in public service I regret more, nothing even close.”
Then, on October 30, 2006, at Pasadena City College, he told a crowd of students, “Education: If you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” The remark was interpreted as a disparaging comment about American military troops, and to some it was reminiscent of his 1971 Foreign Relations Committee testimony. In Seattle the next day, Kerry refused to apologize and blamed Bush adviser Karl Rove for instigating demands that he do so. When criticism continued, and Democratic candidates began to ask Kerry to skip scheduled campaign appearances, Kerry and his staffers said that the comment was “a botched joke,” and that he had meant to say that “you get us stuck in Iraq”—an attack on Bush and his supposedly weak academic record, although in fact Bush’s marks at Yale were slightly better than Kerry’s. The explanation did not prevent the cancellation of all his appearances for Democratic candidates in the last week of the midterm congressional contests. Kerry had no public events in the seven weeks after the election, and on January 24, 2007, he announced he was not running for president in 2008.
No longer a presidential candidate, Kerry turned his focus to the Senate, especially to the foreign-policy issues that capture his attention. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2007, he proclaimed that under Bush the United States had become “a sort of international pariah.” Later that year, he called for sending 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. By then, many other Democrats had caught up with his thinking on Iraq and were demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, similar to the position expressed in the Kerry-Feingold amendment of 2006.
As chairman of the Small Business Committee, Kerry has worked effectively with the senior Republican on the panel, Olympia Snowe of Maine. They got the Securities and Exchange Commission to delay for one year imposing the strict new Sarbanes-Oxley disclosure requirements on small businesses, and they added $100 million to the 2008 supplemental appropriations bill to help small businesses access credit. With then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., an influential House leader, Kerry sought to prevent hedge-fund managers from deferring compensation to offshore tax havens.
On domestic issues, he has been arguably more involved than he was before he ran for president. In the last couple of years, Kerry staked out issues ranging from insurance coverage for mental illness to better access to sports programming for everyday people. With Kennedy, he pushed for mental health parity in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which would require the health system to cover treatment for mental illness the same as for physical illnesses. He also sought to reverse the policy barring HIV-positive people from immigrating to the United States. With the publication of his book This Moment on Earth, he renewed his activism on global warming. He attended the United Nations climate-change talks, and in December 2007 again criticized the Bush administration for opposing the Kyoto Protocol. With Snowe, he sponsored a bill to reduce carbon emissions 65% below 1990 levels by 2050. Kerry also proposed legislation to set speed limits on ships in Massachusetts waters to protect whales. When Major League Baseball signed an exclusive programming agreement with DirecTV, Kerry complained to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, and in 2007 the league agreed to keep the games on cable. Similarly, he demanded that the National Football League make the final regular season game of the New England Patriots available to all Massachusetts cable viewers. The NFL caved.
It has been a long time since a Democratic senator from Massachusetts has been defeated for re-election. It hasn’t happened since 1946, when isolationist Democrat David Walsh was defeated by internationalist Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Kerry’s toughest re-election race came in 1996, when he was opposed by popular Republican Gov. Weld. Earlier, the two had worked together on some state problems and emphasized the similarity of their views, but the campaign inevitably produced disagreements and some gentlemanly acrimony. They held eight debates, spent liberally—Kerry, $12.6 million, Weld, $8 million—and attracted more national media attention than anyone else that year. But Democratic Massachusetts voted 52%-45% for its junior senator. In 2008, Kerry had primary opposition from Gloucester lawyer Edward O’Reilly, who got 31% of the vote. But he had no problems in the general election against Republican nominee Jeff Beatty, who criticized Kerry for voting for the Iraq war resolution. Kerry won, 66%-31%.
Kerry enjoyed good working relationships with both candidates in the hard-fought Democratic presidential primary in 2008, but he ultimately endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. He campaigned heavily for Obama, gave him his 2004 e-mail list for fundraising, and delivered a stirring speech for him at the party’s convention in Denver. After the election, it was made known that Kerry would be pleased to be nominated to be secretary of State, but the job went to Clinton. Kerry did not come out of the election season empty-handed, though. He got the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee after Biden was sworn in as vice president in early 2009.