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Is John Kerry too Liberal to Beat Bush?

As soon as the results of the New Hampshire primary came in, it began. It appeared in the talking points of right-wing pundits. Then there were quiet whispers in the media establishment. Soon, it will start appearing in op-ed pages across the country. Decorated Vietnam veteran and four-term Senator John Kerry is too liberal to beat President George W. Bush in the general election.

However, a close examination of the facts shows that this is just another Republican fantasy, like the idea that tax cuts for the wealthy somehow help the middle class. Although he won the popular vote, Vice President Al Gore narrowly lost to Bush in 2000. Although it is still unclear if Gore would have won had the Florida recount continued, let's look at the whole picture. Conservatives are claiming that Kerry can't win because he is farther to the left than Gore. This is debatable, but what they miss is that Kerry can win precisely because he is more progressive than the former Vice President.

If Gore and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader's totals are combined, a solid 52 percent of Americans voted left of center in 2000. A vast majority of those who backed Nader in 2000 will not do so this time around. Kerry has a very strong record on the environment, which will deliver votes in several key swing states.

Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, is said to be a smart man. A smart man would be shaking in his boots right now.

An important part of Kerry's victory in Iowa was the support of veterans. Although some Democrats have basically given up on the South, it is the region of the country that has the highest population of former armed services personnel in the United States. The Bush administration has slashed benefits for veterans across the board and Kerry has made this a central theme of his campaign.

His distinguished record of service in Vietnam, combined with his principled opposition to the war when he returned, will give him the authority to challenge President Bush on this issue. Kerry's strong stance in support of veterans could help put the South back into play.

I believe that Kerry made the wrong decision by voting in favor of the war in Iraq. While most people may have supported the war in the beginning, many are now questioning the cost. Recent polls indicate that many believe that Bush intentionally misled the public about the threat Iraq posed. These people will be able to identify with Kerry, who now argues that his vote was based on false information from the Bush administration.

Also, Kerry's experience with actual combat (as opposed to Bush's defense of Texas from Mexico during the Vietnam War) will give him the ability to criticize the foreign policy of the President.

Republicans claim that Kerry's opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gay and lesbian marriage will hurt him during the general election. However, according to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, a solid 58 percent of Americans oppose such an amendment. The President's base, which is mostly made up of religious fundamentalists, is pushing for him to back a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. If he doesn't, Bush will most likely lose some of their support. While it is unlikely that these religious conservatives will vote Democrat, they might sit out the election. By forcing the issue, Kerry could create a wedge issue that will actually hurt President Bush.

The final trump card against the argument that Kerry can't beat Bush is the polls. For the first time, a named Democrat is shown beating Bush in the general election. A Princeton Survey Research Associates poll shows Kerry winning 49 percent to 46 percent. While polls aren't always reliable, several other national surveys also show Kerry beating Bush by as much as three to five percentage points. The same polls show that a rising number of people are unhappy with the direction in which the country is going.

Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, is said to be a smart man. A smart man would be shaking in his boots right now.

Ben Waxman is a student studying politics at Juniata College.