Presumptive Democratic frontrunner John Kerry on Monday blasted President Bush's visit to the Daytona 500 as a "photo opportunity." In a dramatic shift from his recent more populist rhetoric, Kerry went on to refer to Middle America's cherished sporting event as the "Declassé 500," noting with disdain that the race audience consists in large part of men who, when in the workplace, have their names appear on their shirts. Kerry went on to add that he did have some slight interest in visiting the track to watch them wave "the chessboard flag" but, on balance, couldn't justify it as, "St. Barts is so much preferable to Florida this time of year."
While the Daytona 500 comments might seem intemperate, they actually mark a bold new strategy for the Kerry campaign, which has replaced the slogan "The Real Deal" with the much more fitting, "The Regal Deal." Says one campaign insider, "Trying to be a populist just wasn't a good fit for John. No matter how many times we tried to get him to refer to the average voter as 'Joe Sixpack,' he would use the phrase, 'Joe Brandy Snifter.'" This doesn't mean that sporting events are completely off the radar for the campaign. The Kerry team is currently in talks with the Indianapolis 500 to stage a ceremony that would reflect the candidate's humble background. This would feature, on the racetrack, a mock-up of Kerry's Beacon Hill Mansion with a fire hydrant in front; the hydrant would then be ceremoniously removed by officials as the Senator triumphantly drives in and parks his Ducati Paso motorcycle.
Sources close to the campaign say to expect more of "The Regal Deal" this week as Kerry changes his focus from attracting the votes of "NASCAR Dads" to what the campaign calls "Neiman-Marcus Dads." In prepared remarks to be delivered later this week, an unusually blunt Kerry will continue to blast President Bush's "photo opportunities" while defending his own tendency to marry fabulously wealthy women as "portfolio opportunities," proudly meant to increase Kerry stock holdings. Says another excerpt, "This administration has mishandled post-war planning in Iraq while my involvement in pre-nuptial agreement planning has been absolutely first-rate, according to many of my wives' attorneys." The speech ends with a variation on the old Kerry standby, "Bring it on!" The new and improved version: "Bring it on an antique silver tea service before her ladyship's temper is aroused over luncheon being late!"
The change in strategy marks a new confidence in the campaign now that a former intern has denied allegations of an affair with the candidate, the apparent truth being that she's a typical young woman, like thousands of others in recent years, whose father just happens to refer to a prominent Democratic candidate as a "sleazeball" for undisclosed personal reasons.
And, of course, the new direction for the campaign would be unthinkable without the input of the often volatile Teresa Heinz Kerry whose distaste for the unwashed masses is unmistakable in news footage and photos, as witness her recent campaign rally cheer, "Vote for John Kerry, you wretched little fry cooks and tool-users!" Still, she rises early every morning with her husband to prepare him for the day's events, drilling him on the subtle differences between being merely arrogant and cavalier and being supremely aloof and supercilious. And yet uneasiness persists over her role. When asked if he could really picture Mrs. Kerry making the required rounds on the talk show circuit and chatting up Oprah and Katie Couric, a top-level campaign adviser began to whimper softly, his lower lip quivering as his knees began to buckle. It was only quick thinking on this reporter's part that kept him from swallowing his tongue.
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