Clinton hits the election trail to boost Kerry

Former US President Bill Clinton hit the election campaign trail, just weeks after undergoing open heart surgery, and urged Americans to vote for Senator John Kerry.

Former US President Bill Clinton hit the election campaign trail, just weeks after undergoing open heart surgery, and urged Americans to vote for Senator John Kerry.

A noticeably thinner but smiling Mr Clinton appeared yesterday alongside the Democratic presidential challenger in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“From time to time I have been called the ’comeback kid’,” Mr Clinton said.

“In eight days John Kerry is going to make America the comeback country.”

Mr Clinton, 58, said: “We have got a clear choice between two strong men with great convictions, with different philosophies, different policies, with very different consequences for this city, this state and this world.”

As he was welcomed on stage, in the locked-down city centre, he told the many thousands of cheering Democratic supporters: “If this isn’t good for my heart, I don’t know what is.”

With just seven days to go before the election, Mr Clinton accused the current President, George Bush, of using scare tactics to win votes.

And he accused some Republicans of trying to scare Democrats away from the polls.

“We can do better and in eight days we are going to do better with President John Kerry,” he said.

Just seven weeks after undergoing a quadruple bypass operation, Mr Clinton was more softly spoken than at previous rallies.

But he also had to be aware that with his huge popularity among Democrats he could actually upstage Senator Kerry.

As the last week of campaigning got under way, Mr Kerry remained level with President Bush in the polls.

In the latest ABC tracking poll, 49% of likely voters favour Mr Bush and 48% Mr Kerry, making it a dead heat within the poll’s margin of error.

The figure marked a comeback for Mr Kerry, who was lagging, 46% to 51% in the same poll for most of last week.

Mr Kerry addressed the party faithful, accusing Mr Bush of “failing” as commander in chief.

The Senator was referring to reports that a massive arms dump in Iraq had been looted, possibly by insurgents.

“George W Bush talks tough and brags about making America safer, but once again he has failed to deliver to the citizens of our country,” he said.

He accused the president of “unbelievable incompetence”.

“George W Bush has failed the test as commander in chief,” he said.

Mr Kerry said America would not only vote to decide between himself and Mr Bush next week, but also to save the “character” and “dreams” of America.

Mr Clinton was travelling on to Florida and is scheduled to make campaign stops at other states in the week, but plans could change depending on his health.

His appearance at the rally came with an eye to mobilising the black vote behind Mr Kerry in Philadelphia.

But he also wished to remind voters of the good economic times under his presidency a stark contrast to the job losses and budget deficit which have scarred the Mr Bush’s administration.

“What the former president does is offer them a very stark reminder of where this country was just four years ago, in a unique way that only he can articulate,” said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry campaign spokesman.

But White House communications director, Dan Bartlett, questioned why Mr Clinton was making an appearance so soon after surgery.

“The fact that John Kerry’s going to have to roll him off the surgery table and onto the campaign trail demonstrates a revealing aspect, that he’s under-performing in key parts of his own constituency,” he told Fox.

After surging from behind in the Democratic primaries, Senator Kerry, from Massachusetts, called himself the “Comeback Kerry” in an echo of Mr Clinton’s “Comeback Kid” label.

He told supporters: “Ain’t it great to have president Clinton back on the campaign trail.”

“To be back here in seven weeks – this president really is the comeback kid”.

Mr Kerry was targeting Pennsylvania because it is one of a handful of states likely to decide the outcome of the election.

Polls in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania are neck and neck. And the three states hold a large number of electoral college votes which the candidates must secure to claim victory.

In the final week of the election, both campaigns are spending around £25 million on television advertising.

Following his successful heart operation and the release of his recent autobiography, Mr Clinton has seen an upsurge in support.

He explained that doctors had advised him not to over-exert himself in the campaign following his September 6 quadruple heart bypass.

But he told ABC News: “I want to do this. Senator Kerry asked me to do it.

“And I want to do it... because it’s close, and because I think it’s important, and because the differences between the two candidates and the courses they will pursue in the next four years are so profound.”

Mr Clinton said he and his wife, Hillary, were determined that he would keep his campaigning to a minimum.

“I talked to my doctors about it and they made some very helpful suggestions,” he said.

“They said, you know, I should get wherever I’m going early in case I’m tired, so I can kind of regenerate.”

Mr Clinton said his wife “didn’t want me to do too much”, adding “and I don’t either”.

Meanwhile, the Bush re-election team will also roll out the big guns later this week, as California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hits the campaign trail.

The Terminator star is expected to campaign in another crucial swing state, Ohio.

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