WHEN Bob Kerrey stepped before TV cameras and cheering
supporters to announce his presidential campaign here this week,
media advisers had refined even the smallest details of the
electronic image that would flash across America.
Five blocks away from the outdoor Kerrey rally, technicians had
fired up 15 powerful floodlights, even though it was a bright, blue
Nebraska morning. The capitol would be visible to television
viewers over the candidate's shoulder as he spoke, and strategists
wanted the 400-foot-tall limestone building bathed with extra light
so it would photograph well.
The Kerrey campaign's attention to even the tiniest elements of
style reminds some critics, like Republican James Rogers, of the
kind of media strategy that once helped put Ronald Reagan into the
Senator Kerrey, says Mr. Rogers, who was once a speech writer
for former Nebraska Gov. Kay Orr, has "a deft feel for the drama of
the moment. He can appeal to deep feelings in people. He has a
charisma most Nebraska politicians don't have."
Joseph Robert (Bob) Kerrey isn't well known, but in the next
four months leading up to the New Hampshire primary, he could well
become a household name.
A Medal of Honor winner who lost part of one leg as a Navy Seal
in Vietnam, Kerrey has captured every political prize he sought in
Nebraska with surprising ease.
Like former Sen. Gary Hart, whom he supported for the White
House in 1984, Kerrey talks of "new ideas," and encourages his
staff to look for fresh solutions to old problems. But also like
Mr. Hart, Kerrey creates nagging doubts in some observers.
In a lengthy portrait of Kerrey, the New York Times once called
him "the unfinished politician," a reference to his seemingly
endless quest to change and improve not only government, but
himself. It is a characterization that his friends generally
F. Gregory Hayden, an economics professor at the University of
Nebraska at Lincoln, once served on then-Governor Kerrey's staff as
a special assistant for policy research. He agrees that Kerrey's
personal views will always be fluid. "He will never be finished in
his own mind. He will take off in new directions, take risks."
But Kerrey's searching mind doesn't worry Professor Hayden. He
"I would emphasize that he is a cautious person. He is a
risk-taker with his own life and political career. But in terms of
what he does with government programs or government money, he is
In the early 1980s, when Kerrey served as governor of Nebraska,
this caution led to criticism from progressives, Hayden says. In
the face of hard times, Kerrey told liberals "no" to spending
That view of events is confirmed by Bob Sittig, a political
scientist at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. During the
1982-83 recession, Dr. Sittig says, Kerrey was faced with two
"Raise taxes, or cut spending. And he chose to cut spending, and
that alienated some supporters. But with brashness and
self-confidence, he engenders support and commitment, and he
eventually won his way back with many Nebraskans."
Despite his great popularity here, however, skeptics still
wonder what makes the senator tick. …