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Home Stretch for The Kerry/Weld Race

October 25, 1996 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: With 10 days to go before the election, the race between Democratic Senator John Kerry and his Republican challenger, Governor William Weld, remains too close to call. But the dynamic of the campaign has shifted a bit since we last looked in on the race five weeks ago.

Republican Bill Weld began the final autumn stretch of this campaign ahead in the polls and still happily poaching on Democratic turf. On Monday, he was in Boston’s North End, courting Italian-American Democrats.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: (serving pizza to group) The tip is a vote.

MARGARET WARNER: And when the patrician governor was endorsed by the local hotel workers union last month, he boasted of being a dues-paying member, though he admitted he’d never changed a hotel bed.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: I feel culturally more like an urban Democrat than a suburban Republican.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s been the secret of Weld’s success in Massachusetts, where Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents vastly outnumber Republicans. Weld’s affable style and his relentless focus on the issues of crime, welfare, and taxes appeal to blue-collar, Reagan Democrats like the patrons of J.J. Foley’s bar in Boston’s South End. Weld’s personal popularity remains high, and he has continued to push those core themes throughout this campaign.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: See you, everybody. Hey, thanks for coming out, you Kerry folks too.

MARGARET WARNER: He made a ceremony last month out of signing a plan imposing time limits on welfare recipients, and later that same week, on the theory that no tax cut is too small in an election year, he proudly presided over the demolition of a toll booth on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Some local columnists have suggested Weld needs to expand his message beyond crime, welfare, and taxes. But Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist at the Boston Globe, disagrees.

JEFF JACOBY, Boston Globe Columnist: The fact that Bill Weld, a Republican, is this competitive, this close to an election for the U.S. Senate, the first time in 24 years that a Republican has been in that good a position, shows that he’s doing something right.

MARGARET WARNER: John Kerry has finally responded to Weld’s surge with an all-out effort to remind the state’s liberal establishment that he is the real Democrat in this race.

Kerry warns the state’s liberal activists like the people attending an environmental rally last Saturday that though they found Weld sympathetic as governor, he would not be their friend in Washington.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: And I say to you that nothing is more important than not giving more power to Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato, Strom Thurmond, Orrin Hatch. (applause)

MARGARET WARNER: A new media firm brought changes to Kerry’s advertising strategy, too. Old ads have touted Kerry’s foreign policy achievements.

AD SPOKESMAN: He’s taken on North and Noriega.

MARGARET WARNER: The new ones play on old-time Democratic themes.

AD SPOKESMAN: He fought the cuts in Medicare and helped lead and win the battle to defeat the cuts in education.

MARGARET WARNER: New ads remind voters of things Weld has done that weren’t exactly friendly to the middle and working classes.

AD SPOKESMAN: As governor, Weld vetoed funding for higher education, Weld crossed the picket line to get a COMGAS PAC check. John Kerry sided with the workers–Kerry, fighting for us.

MARGARET WARNER: The state’s liberal warhorse, senior Senator Ted Kennedy, has weighed in too with a radio ad.

SEN. TED KENNEDY: (radio ad) This is Ted Kennedy. You know where I stand. I’m asking you not to cancel my vote. You need John Kerry in the Senate on the side of working families.

MARGARET WARNER: This is a decidedly new tack for Kerry, who prides himself on being a different kind of Democrat.

MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe Columnist: John Kerry has always been in sort of a Democratic shadow world. He’s not Ted Kennedy.

MARGARET WARNER: Mike Barnicle is a liberal columnist for the Boston Globe, who has known Kerry for years.

MIKE BARNICLE: He’s sort of a Democrat, but he’s not really been aligned with the Democratic Party — the traditional Democratic Party, big labor, big unions. He’s got to go back to that base and say, hey, I’ve got a little bit of difficulty here, remember me, big “D” after my name, John Kerry.

MARGARET WARNER: The White House too responded to Kerry’s plea. President Clinton, who is running some 30 points ahead of Bob Dole in Massachusetts, spent an entire day campaigning with Kerry.

The day ended with a Boston concert that featured bay boomer icons like Crosby, Stills, & Nash.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Whoever said he didn’t have a sense of humor? Do you believe that Gov. Weld had the guts to stand up here and say he couldn’t believe that we had all those people from the 60′s playing and everybody kept their clothes on? (laughter among audience) Next thing you know John Kerry will be doing the Macarena with Al Gore.

MARGARET WARNER: At least one 90s star thought Kerry has plenty of pizzaz.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: You’re cute, you know. And I, for one, am really glad to see some good looking people in office. Woo! You know–I don’t know what’s happening, but the other party seems to have taken ugly pills. (laughter among audience)

MARGARET WARNER: Kerry’s bid for the state’s Democratic base is beginning to pay off. He’s been endorsed in recent weeks by many progressive groups, alarmed by the Republican leadership in Congress. Some of them had endorsed Weld for governor in the past. They include leading environmental organizations and many major unions. Even the Boston Police Patrolman’s Association, which defected to Republican George Bush in the ’88 presidential race, returned to the Democratic fold last month, and endorsed Kerry. Weld was disappointed.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: I think it does help Sen. Kerry somewhat because it’s a man bites dog story from where I sit because I think the Senator has a weak record on crime issues.

MARGARET WARNER: The two men have also competed for gay voters like those who gathered for the annual black tie human rights campaign dinner in Boston Saturday night.

Bill Weld has championed their cause as governor, yet many leading gay organizations have now endorsed Kerry. Kerry came to thank them, accompanied by his new wife of one year, ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: There are not many states in the country that could boast two candidates for the United States Senate, both of whom have done things that are positive with respect to your community, and I want acknowledge that, and I appreciate and I respect those among you who have either worked with or for my opponent.

ELLEN SCHWARTZ: Endorsements don’t necessarily mean votes, but polls show ordinary voters, too, are responding. Kerry has stopped his slide of the summer and edged narrowly ahead of his rival in the polls. The bottom line is that Kerry may not be Kennedy, but many liberal voters are coming home to him, says the Globe’s Barnicle, because they see him as a more reliable ally in Washington than Weld.

MIKE BARNICLE: Kerry’s not a populist. I mean, you know, Kerry’s not going to show up with a sump pump to pump the water out of your basement like the guy next door, but he does have the issues, far more than Weld does, and he does have the label that you need in this state to convince people that you care about those issues, and that label is D, Democrat, you know, we’re the guys, we’re the guys you call, we’re the 911 of the politics.

MARGARET WARNER: Weld, by contrast, is trying to distance himself from the national Republican ticket. When his old friend, vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp came to town, the governor was busy elsewhere.

REPORTER: What does it mean that the governor isn’t here to greet you?

JACK KEMP: I–look, the governor’s running for Senate, and he’s going to win. He’s got to do what he has to do.

MARGARET WARNER: One thing Weld is doing is publicly declaring his independence from the congressional Republican leadership. Monday night at a dinner for new Americans, he promised to address their concerns about the way immigrants are treated in the new welfare reform law.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: There are a lot of things that need to change in Washington these days, but one of the most important is the federal government’s treatment of legal immigrants.

MARGARET WARNER: And earlier Monday, when a senior citizens group asked him about Medicare, the governor sounded more like the Democrat.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: Well, I have signed on to President Clinton’s plan for Medicare, which is a 7.8 percent increase each of the next six years.

MARGARET WARNER: Weld’s TV ads, too, continue to tout the governor’s independence.

AD SPOKESMAN: For six years, Bill Weld has proven he has got some independence to bring Democrats, Republicans, and independents together.

MARGARET WARNER: But Weld has problems with his Republican base. His libertarian views on such issues as abortion and gay rights have angered the party’s social conservatives.

SUSAN GALLAGHER: I’m running against Weld and Kerry.

OLDER GENTLEMAN: Yeah, good. I’m going to vote for you.

SUSAN GALLAGHER: Thank you very much.

OLDER GENTLEMAN: I’m going to vote for you. Them two bums.

MARGARET WARNER: A pro-life conservative, Susan Gallagher, is also running, and though she only gets 2 to 5 percent in recent surveys, pollsters say she’s drawing most of that support from Weld. Late last month, Weld tried to mend fences by inviting social and religious conservatives to a meeting in his office.

JEFF JACOBY, Boston Globe Columnist: The meeting ended in disaster. None of the conservatives was won over by Weld. He, more or less, told them that he wasn’t planning on changing any of his positions to accommodate their views. If anything, it only exacerbated the rift between Weld and the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which is small in Massachusetts but which is, nevertheless, the starting point for most Republican candidates.

MARGARET WARNER: Weld made the rift even wider that evening during this televised exchange with a voter.

ELLEN SCHWARTZ: (September 30th) Does this support of abortion extend to the partial birth abortion procedure?

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: No, really, that’s a terrible, it’s a terrible procedure, and I wish it would never happen, but I would have voted the same way Kerry did on that.

MARGARET WARNER: Weld is also being hurt by his popularity as governor. A recent Boston Globe poll found more than 50 percent of the voters now say they want to keep him in the job. An undecided voter in last week’s debate raised the issue, much to Kerry’s delight.

JIM HUGHES: (October 15th) Why should I vote to send Bill Weld to Washington, thereby losing an effective governor? Can you answer that?

SEN. JOHN KERRY: I don’t know if I can answer that. You stumped me.

MARGARET WARNER: This race began like a civic textbook’s model. The two rivals agreed to seven debates. They’ve held eight so far, and the debates are still revealing. Kerry of late has been trying to tie Bob Dole’s $500 billion tax cut plan around tax-cutter Weld’s neck.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: They don’t want to defend their tax cut of $550 billion, and they don’t want to tell people the truth about what will happen to Medicare, which Al D’Amato said would be cut if their tax cut passes. That’s why he wants to talk about everything else in this race, because he can’t defend going to Washington, helping the rich and the wealthy and the corporations over the working people of this country.

SPOKESMAN: Governor Weld, a minute.

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: Dan, there are two names on the ballot in this here Senate race, Bill Weld and John Kerry. And the reason that John Kerry wants to talk about anything else except those two names is because he can’t defend his lousy record! The citizens of the commonwealth can perfectly well make up their minds on this Senate race on the basis of who’s done more for them the last six years!

MARGARET WARNER: They also agreed to limit their spending, but the money deal is now unraveling, and their salvos have turned nasty. Some of Weld’s ads paint Kerry as soft on gangs and drugs. Kerry’s ad suggests Weld is heartless. More recently, Weld’s ads question Kerry’s ethics, and last weekend, Weld jumped on reports that Kerry received cut-rate housing from wealthy businessmen when he was newly separated from his first wife a decade ago.

SPOKESMAN: Governor, do you really think John Kerry is a sleaze?

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: Well, I wouldn’t use words of characterization. I mean, we’re finding out that he did accept a free primary residence for a number of months.

SPOKESMAN: So you have doubts about his ethics?

GOV. WILLIAM WELD: Well, I have doubts about–if he gets everything for free, I don’t know what he was spending the $130,000-a-year salary on.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: That’s not just a true statement by the governor. And the governor has clearly chosen in the latter days of this campaign to take the mask off of his face and display that he is a Republican a la Bob Dole. They want to attack personality. They want to make the campaigns as mucky as they can.

JEFF JACOBY: There’s something a little tawdry about the fact that two guys, as smart as these two are, with the long careers that both of them have, with the deep education they’ve gotten, the ability to articulate strong ideas that they have, have really fought the race down at this level, instead of bringing it up here and letting Massachusetts have a serious clash of ideology and philosophy and ideas.

MARGARET WARNER: But Jacoby’s colleague, Mike Barnicle, wrote a column last month urging the two rivals to “get in the gutter.”

You were saying they’re being too polite; they were kind of dancing around each other. So now they’re in the gutter, you don’t like it?

MIKE BARNICLE: No. I didn’t say that. They’re not quite in the gutter. They’re both–they’re teetering on the curb. You know, another week, the weekend before election, they’ll be right down there in the gutter. You know, that’s the fun part. I mean, people expect that. Life is like dealing with adversity. Life is about coping with slurs and innuendos and envy and the petty jealousies that, you know, push us all through our days, and so let’s see how these two guys handle it.

MARGARET WARNER: A new Boston Herald poll released today had Kerry at 44 and Weld at 40, a statistical dead heat. The two rivals will meet in a final face-off Monday night, a debate televised nationally on C-SPAN from Boston’s historic Fanueil Hall.