Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CAMPAIGN 2004; Veterans Are Supporting Kerry, but Is It Enough? They Tend to Back GOP More, Experts Say, and That Could Be in Bush's Favor

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CAMPAIGN 2004; Veterans Are Supporting Kerry, but Is It Enough? They Tend to Back GOP More, Experts Say, and That Could Be in Bush's Favor

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

Retired Marine Gen. Steve Cheney, knowing what the audience wanted, made no bones about giving up the stage to a lower rank.

But this was no simple captain -- he was former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost three limbs in a grenade explosion in Vietnam. His scene-stealing emergence in John Kerry's presidential campaign has helped the Massachusetts senator capitalize on veterans' support -- even for someone who tossed away his own Navy ribbons to protest the Vietnam War.

Veterans like Cheney and Cleland have helped Kerry by phoning voters, promoting him at events and endorsing him in television ads. They are a more consistently potent force in his campaign than the other Democrats, including retired Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas. Kerry campaigned with veterans Friday in Michigan in advance of contests there and in Washington.

"What has happened here is that John has organized it. It does not coalesce on its own," Cleland said of veteran support in South Carolina. "John has made a special point to organize it. . . . We just follow the momentum and follow the candidate, and we're with it 'til the last dog dies."

In contests Tuesday, where veterans were a fifth to a quarter of the turnout, Kerry easily won over former military members in Arizona and Missouri, according to exit polls. In the only two states he lost, Kerry still won over veterans in Oklahoma, and finished second in South Carolina.

Veterans have given Kerry a dependable volunteer base, starting with his victory in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 19. Kerry's veteran support, built on his military record, has given him standing to criticize the Iraq war, too.

Kerry proved to Democrats that "you could be a brave man and oppose the war," said Duke University scholar Peter Feaver, who studies the politics of post-military voters.

But former military officers probably would not support him over President Bush, Feaver said.

"I don't think he will get strong veterans support," Feaver said. "It's a little bit like saying if Colin Powell was the running mate, would Republicans get more of the African-American vote? …

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