WATERLOO, Iowa – Democrat John Kerry (search) enlisted the help of his daughters, a political pal and a few Vietnam War (search) buddies Sunday as the presidential hopeful, his voice hoarse from long days of campaigning, made his 11th-hour push for support.
Buoyed by polls showing him leading in Iowa and gaining in New Hampshire, the Massachusetts senator raced from services at a predominantly black church to a rally with party activists, letting surrogates trumpet his candidacy. He shortened his stump speech and handed the microphone to others.
"In the final hours of this campaign, people want to know what kind of heart is in this man," said Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass.
With the caucuses looming, Kennedy argued that party traditionalists would focus on the personal side of the candidates -- and Kerry's resume of decorated war veteran, opponent of the Southeast Asia conflict and four-term senator -- would impress voters.
Kerry told the crowds that he offers "the real values of the Democratic Party."
Among those campaigning with him were Kennedy, Kerry's two daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra, and crew members from the Navy swift boat he captained during Vietnam. On Saturday, Kerry staged an emotional reunion with Jim Rassmann, a serviceman he rescued during the war 35 years ago, and Rassmann joined Kerry on the trail.
"This is all new to me," Rassmann told the hundreds of backers jammed into an elementary school auditorium. "I don't travel in heavy circles like this."
A registered Republican, Rassmann said his backing for Kerry was personal and he pointed to the brotherhood of arms and ties between those who have fought together.
"That tells you a lot about the man," Rassmann said, his arm draped around Del Sandusky, who piloted Kerry's boat in 1969 when Kerry plucked Rassmann from a river under withering fire.
Kerry made a strategic decision late last year to focus on Iowa after polls showed him trailing rival Howard Dean in New Hampshire. Recent surveys show him in a statistical tie in Iowa with Dean, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards, and the latest numbers out of New Hampshire reflect gains for the senator.
Kerry jumped 9 percentage points in six days in an American Research Group tracking poll that placed him essentially tied for second with Wesley Clark. In the poll, conducted Jan. 15-17, Dean was at 28 percent, Clark 20 percent and Kerry 19 percent. Edwards, who was fourth at 8 percent, had a 5 percentage-point rise in the same period.
The latest telephone poll of 425 Democrats and 185 undeclared voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Kerry also received endorsements from two of New Hampshire's largest newspapers on Sunday -- the Concord Monitor and The Telegraph of Nashua.