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Last Updated: Friday, 5 November, 2004, 17:02 GMT
Profile: John Kerry

By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website

Senator John F Kerry failed in his attempt to become the second senator from Massachusetts with the initials JFK to reach the White House.

Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz
Part of the American melting pot
He fought a generally well-regarded campaign but John Forbes Kerry lacks the charisma of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

He lost both the popular vote - by 51% to 48% - and the Electoral College vote.

Mr Kerry had his strengths. Part of his attraction came from his grave senatorial demeanour.

And he used that with effect to attack President Bush over the war in Iraq.

Senator Kerry came of age as a candidate during the first debate with Mr Bush when he did not appear as the bumbler portrayed by his opponent.

But he had weaknesses. He can suffer from the senatorial sin of waffle.

And he was mercilessly attacked by the Bush campaign for allegedly changing his mind on major issues, including the war in Iraq.

Like the first JFK, John Kerry is generally liberal on domestic issues and more conservative over foreign policy. But he is not entirely predictable on either - like JFK the first, whom incidentally he knew as a young man when he was going out with Jacqueline Kennedy's half-sister.

John Kerry became the candidate because he was seen by Democrats as a credible challenger to President Bush, especially over the issue of Iraq.

Vietnam veteran

His record as a Vietnam veteran who turned against the war was used in evidence against a president who joined the Texas Air National Guard which did not see active service in Vietnam.

In a campaign in which national security issues, led by those of Iraq and the war on terror, were important, his military record was seen as relevant.

He presented himself as someone who had done his duty, who knows war at first hand and yet who also knows the limitations of war.

This helped to counter the fact that he voted in the Senate in support of the war against Iraq.

In his Vietnam service, John Kerry was captain of a gunboat in the Mekong Delta, personally killing a Viet Cong fighter in one action. He was wounded three times, though not seriously.

The contrast with George W Bush was there without having to be spelled out.

Anti-war stance

It was his disillusionment with Vietnam which first brought him to public attention as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Kerry (second from left, top) with members of his crew aboard PCF-31 in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam war
Kerry was decorated for his duty in Vietnam
That he had an instinct for politics was shown when he asked a congressional committee: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

That he had an instinct for shrewdness was shown when he was with a group of veterans who threw their medals onto the steps of the Capitol.

In fact, Mr Kerry threw someone else's and kept his own.

Inconsistent voting

His votes on issues of war and peace in the Senate (he was first elected in 1984) have not been consistent.

Although he has been critical of American policy in Iraq, he voted for military action there in 2002.

On the other hand he opposed intervention in Central America and made a name for himself by investigating the US role in supporting the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

He was also against President Bush Senior's action to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, but he was in favour of military intervention in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti and Panama.

Republicans are also pointing out that he opposed spending on numerous military projects, including the Apache attack helicopter.

On social issues, Kerry is generally liberal. He is regarded as "solid" by environmentalists, and is in favour of abortion rights and more action to improve health care. He backs civil unions for gays, but not gay marriages.

Public prosecutor

But he is no bleeding heart. In fact, as a district attorney, he was a tough public prosecutor and went into state politics (he became lieutenant governor of Massachusetts) on the back of his record.

He used his legal expertise when he wrote a scathing Senate report on the BCCI bank scandal in 1992 which criticised, among many others, the Bank of England.

John Kerry made special mention in his campaign of the power of lobbyists in the Bush administration. "We're coming, you're going and don't let the door hit you on the way out," had been his earlier popular refrain.

But the Washington Post, quoting federal records, pointed out that he himself had raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years. His counter-argument is that this has not stopped him from fighting on behalf of ordinary Americans.

Family history

It might be thought, and he has not discouraged such a thought, that this JFK, a Catholic from Massachusetts like the first, is also Irish by background. Not so.

He is a product of the American melting pot.

Born 11 December 1943
Ran unsuccessfully for House of Representatives 1972
Elected Massachusetts lieutenant governor 1983
First elected to Senate 1984

His middle name Forbes is his mother's maiden name. The Forbes family in the United States goes back to an Anglican clergyman, the Reverend John Forbes, who, after leaving the University of Aberdeen in 1763 was sent to the American colonies by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

His mother's mother came from an even grander family, the Winthrops, one of the founding families of New England. This grandmother bought a house and settled in Brittany, and Mr Kerry has a first cousin who is a local mayor and a former French environment minister. As a boy John Kerry often spent summers there.

He also has Jewish roots, though these were not well known about until quite recently. He himself did not know for a long time that his grandfather was born Fritz Kohn in what is now the Czech Republic.

Kohn emigrated to the United States and changed his name to Kerry in 1907. He was a successful businessman though ended his life by committing suicide in a hotel room.

John Kerry says he remembers his grandmother as a practising Catholic. Although born Jewish, she had later converted.

Wilderness years

Nor is Mr Kerry a son of the soil or toil. His father was a diplomat and the family was often on the move. John Kerry went to a boarding school in Switzerland, to a top private school in New Hampshire and then to Yale, where he studied political science and joined the secret and elite Skull and Bones club, just as George W Bush did two years later.

He has married twice, both times to rich women. His first wife was a Philadelphia heiress Julia Thorne, who suffered from depression. After their break-up, Mr Kerry went through some wilderness years.

Then in 1995 he married again, this time to Teresa Heinz, who had lost her husband, Senator Richard Heinz, in a plane crash and had inherited his canned food and ketchup fortune.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, originally from a Portuguese family in Mozambique, has always spoken her mind and kept her independence. It was some time before she started using the Kerry name.

Mr Kerry has two daughters from his first marriage and three stepsons from his second.

It is quite convenient, really. Mr Kerry has solid Yankee connections, an interesting immigrant background and a lot of folk in Massachusetts probably think he is Irish anyway.

Not bad for a presidential candidate.

But not quite enough.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"Although not born to greatness, Kerry has certainly aspired to it"

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