In South Florida, Kerry promises healthy economy, support for Israel
BY WILLIAM E. GIBSON
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Photo: Eric W.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – (KRT) – Striving to attract wavering voters in South Florida, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry promised on Friday to help secure Israel and to generate jobs at home by investing in space-age technology as part of a new era of discovery.
Kerry’s stump speeches in West Palm Beach and Miami just four days before the election were laced with references to Florida and a wide range of foreign and domestic issues designed to reassure a fretful electorate.
Unlike the giddy and superficial pep rallies that characterize the last phase of some previous campaigns, this year Kerry and President Bush have felt compelled to confront serious-minded issues, mostly on security, the war in Iraq and the sluggish economy.
Shedding his suit coat, Kerry grabbed a microphone and wandered up to a cheering crowd under swaying palms and a hot sun to make his late pitch to hundreds of supporters at an outdoor rally in West Palm Beach. Though light on specifics, he plunged into substantive issues to show his commitment to the war on terrorism, to Israel and to the creation of good-paying jobs.
“While we are talking about the war on terror, it’s important for me to make it clear also that America’s most steadfast ally in the Middle East is the state of Israel,” Kerry said. “I understand – and I will as president – that we need to help the state of Israel be safe and secure.”
A few hours later, Kerry delivered a similar address to a throng in Miami’s Bayfront Park.
Breaking into Spanish, Kerry sought the support of Cubans and other Latin Americans by chastising Bush for tightening restrictions on sending money to Cuba and saying Bush was oblivious to issues in Latin America.
“It’s clear to me that we have a president who doesn’t know where Latin America is,” Kerry said in Spanish. He then led the crowd in a chant of “No mas Bush.”
In a rally that was more of a concert a political event, Bette Midler opened with a short set that was followed by a performance by Bruce Springsteen.
Bush plans to bring his own stump speech to Miami, where he is scheduled to rally supporters at noon on Sunday at the convention center in Coconut Grove. Kerry is also scheduled to return to Florida for a rally Sunday in Tampa.
Both candidates have focused on Iraq and terror through the latter part of the campaign, a striking contrast from the 2000 campaign when defense and foreign policy were rarely mentioned. Personality and domestic issues have given way to war and security concerns this year because a sober-minded public has demanded it.
“I think people are a little more fretful and concerned, less apathetic, more involved,” said Charlene Goldstein, 44, an antique dealer from West Palm Beach who came to hear Kerry speak.
On the edge of the crowd, Michael Bond, 36, of Lake Worth, said he is leaning to Bush but wanted to gather more information about Kerry’s plans.
“He [Kerry] seems like somebody who can’t make up his mind,” Bond said. “But I came here Saturday to hear what he had to say before making my final decision. I want to hear what his plan is for the war on terrorism, and I want to hear what he wants to do for the economy.
“One of the problem with President Bush is that he hasn’t gotten a lot of bipartisan support.”
Kerry picked up that theme, promising to unite this nation while fostering cooperation with others.
He vowed to “keep Iran from becoming a nuclearized country” and to “take on Arab countries and name and shame those that fund terror.”
Turning to domestic policy, Kerry referred to Florida’s space industry and proposed to create jobs by investing in technology.
“We have to push the curve of discovery in America,” he said. “We have to reach for a fresh start with fresh possibilities in how we create jobs that pay more than the jobs we’re losing overseas.
“The jobs I want to create are the ones that come out of science and technology, unleashing the venture capital of America, using our creative genius and putting the energy of our laboratories and colleges and universities to do a number of things, starting with making America energy independent and moving to alternative and renewable fuels.”
Kerry also reiterated his pledge to allow importation of cheaper drugs from Canada and to allow Medicare to use its leverage to negotiate lower drug prices through bulk purchases.
Florida Democrats have relished Kerry’s frequent visits to the state, which in past decades was largely ignored toward the end of presidential campaigns. Retiring Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., introduced Kerry, who hinted that, if elected, he plans to appoint his Senate colleague to a high post.
“If you elect me as president,” Kerry said, “it will be hard for him (Graham) to retire from American public life.”
Staff writer Ihosvani Rodriguez contributed to this report from Miami.