Originally created 02/28/04

Cleland tours state for Kerry



ATLANTA - Former Sen. Max Cleland and several of John Kerry's Vietnam buddies began a tour of Georgia on Friday to rally support for the Massachusetts senator on the final weekend before the state's primary Tuesday.

Billing it as a "Band of Brothers Tour," Mr. Cleland and two crew members from the swift boat Mr. Kerry captained in Vietnam visited the veterans memorial at the state Capitol before going to Warner Robins and Savannah.

"We know a man who has the background and experience, not only in war but in peace, to bring this country to a better place," said Mr. Cleland, a Vietnam war triple amputee.

"We have the real deal in John Kerry. He understands the definition of patriotism is the ability to take care of those who have worn the uniform and take care of them when they come back."

Mr. Cleland, who lost his senate seat in 2002 to Republican Saxby Chambliss, bristled over the criticism leveled by Mr. Chambliss and others last week at Mr. Kerry's voting record on defense issues.

"First of all, I question George Bush as our commander in chief for leaving 40,000 of our troops in Iraq without proper body armor," he said, referring to Pentagon delays in delivering new body armor with ceramic plates to stop rifle rounds.

Mr. Cleland also asserted Mr. Bush has "gotten us in a quagmire, and he doesn't know what to do about it."

The tour had stops planned Saturday in Valdosta and Albany, and in Columbus and Macon on Sunday.

Also Friday, Mr. Kerry was endorsed by the Georgia Association of Educators, the state's second-largest teachers organization.

"Sen. Kerry's views on No Child Left Behind and how the underfunding of it has essentially undermined public education is right on target," said Merchuria Chase Williams, the group's president.

Two recent polls show Mr. Kerry leading in Georgia as the Super Tuesday primary approaches, but one showed his only real rival, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, may be closing the gap.

Mr. Edwards, who contends he's the best candidate to take on Bush because he can carry the South, has won only one of the three Southern states that have voted so far, but is making a concerted effort in Georgia, where he already has made four appearances in the past 10 days.

The chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, Alec Poitevint, said in a statement issued by the party Friday that both Democrats are out of step with Georgia values.

"The only thing separating these two candidates is their accents," he said. "Georgians don't have to look too far beyond their rhetoric to see that when it comes to their voting record, both are out of touch with Georgia voters."