MIAMI, March 8: Democratic White House candidate John Kerry predicted on Monday Republicans would try to "tear down" his character and said some foreign leaders had told him they hoped he would beat President George Bush.
Without naming anybody, Mr Kerry said he had received words of encouragement from leaders abroad who were eager to see him defeat Mr Bush on Nov. 2. "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that," he said.
The four-term Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam war veteran told supporters at a fund-raiser in Fort Lauderdale that he expected a tough eight-month campaign in which Republicans would make an effort to malign him and his wife, outspoken heiress and philanthropist Teresa Heinz Kerry.
"I am convinced that we have the ability to win this race," he said. "It's going to be hard fought, they're going to do everything possible to tear down my character personally (and) Teresa. That's the way they operate."
Mr Kerry cited how Republicans turned on one of their own in 2000, when Arizona Senator John McCain, another decorated Vietnam war veteran who survived six years as a prisoner of war, ran against Mr Bush for the party's nomination.
"They even tried to challenge John McCain's tenure as a prisoner for six years ... they tried to besmirch his character, so I expect everything," he said.
Mr Bush and his Republican allies have already tried to portray the Yale-educated son of a diplomat as a Northeastern liberal elitist, a chronic waffler and a fence-sitter.
Mr Kerry rejected what he has called the old style politics of divisiveness and said he would not let the finger-pointing distract from the issues of jobs, health care, the economy and national security.
"I'm a fighter," he said. "And I'm ready for it, and I'm not going to let them change the subject. The subject is America, the oneness ... our kids, our future, all of the issues that are staring us in the face."
John Kerry has challenged the president on almost all aspects of foreign policy, from Iraq, where he accuses the administration of going to war as a first resort not a last, to Haiti, where he said he would have sent an international force to support ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
On a Southern swing through four states- Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Louisiana - that hold nominating contests on Tuesday, Mr Kerry blamed Mr Bush for America's "torn and tattered" international ties over Iraq and broken promises on jobs, health care, education and the environment.
After winning nine out of a possible 10 states last week, Mr Kerry drove his only major competitor, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, out of the race and clinched the nomination.
FUND-RAISERS: In an effort to match Mr Bush's $100 million campaign war chest, Mr Kerry is seeking to unify the fund-raisers who originally backed Edwards, one-time Democratic front-runner Howard Dean and other former opponents.
He said he had spoken to Mr Dean several times and expects to meet with the former Vermont governor later this week in Washington. Mr Kerry told his supporters he and Edwards, frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate, "became good friends" during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Later, at a town hall meeting in Hollywood, John Kerry vowed not to privatize the Social Security retirement system nor to cut benefits. He slammed the Medicare prescription drug bill as a "Bush boondoggle" for the pharmaceutical companies.
Florida, site of the bitterly contested 2000 recount that gave Mr Bush the presidency, ranks No. 1 among states in population aged 65 or over, according to the US Census. -Reuters
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