NEW YORK – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) told well-heeled party donors on Thursday he plans to launch an advertising campaign next week that is designed to define him for voters largely unaware of him.
"A lot of people don't really know who I am," Kerry said at a breakfast where he raised $2.5 million. "The level of communication we need to establish here is enormous."
Kerry has raised nearly $15 million this week. While he lags far behind the nearly $200 million President Bush has raised, the Massachusetts senator said he has managed to avoid allowing the president to use that financial edge to define him.
"We're just going to be coming right back at them," Kerry said.
The presumptive Democratic nominee was heading to Washington on Thursday for a college event before traveling to New Jersey to raise more campaign money.
Kerry also is meeting Thursday with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (search), the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and chairman of a task force studying the church's stance toward politicians who don't adhere to church teachings. Kerry, a Roman Catholic, has been criticized because his pro-choice views on abortion conflict with the church.
Kerry's visit to Howard University in Washington continues a college tour to promote his plan to give a free college education to students who agree to public service. However, questions about the war in Iraq — from Bush's policies to his own — have dominated his appearances.
The Iraq war is a tough issue for Kerry, who voted for the 2002 congressional resolution that authorized Bush to use force in Iraq. But since the U.S. invasion a year ago he has become increasingly critical of Bush's war management while, at the same time, trying to maintain his support for the operation and appeal to the Democratic base.
On Wednesday, during a question-and-answer session at an event at City College of New York, Kerry was challenged by a questioner who said there was little difference between Kerry and Bush on the war.
Retired college professor Walter Daum angrily accused the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee of backing an imperialist policy in Iraq and called on him to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"You voted for this," Daum shouted. As he spoke, a group stood silently and unfurled a large sign that read, "Kerry take a stand: Troops out now."
Exasperated, Kerry said at one point, "You're not listening."
Speaking with reporters afterward, Kerry argued that stability in Iraq is his top priority and dismissed the notion of withdrawing U.S. troops. He indicated he would support any request for more U.S. forces in Iraq. Bush, at his news conference this week, said he would support an increased U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Defense officials said Wednesday that more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers who were to return to their bases in Louisiana and Germany this month will be kept in Iraq to help combat the surge in anti-occupation violence.
"I think the vast majority of the American people understand that it's important to not just cut and run," Kerry said. "I don't believe in a cut-and-run philosophy."
Kerry, arguing that there are "very real differences" between him and Bush on Iraq, said, "I believe it is possible to reduce the cost and the burden and the risk to American soldiers."
"We shouldn't only be tough, we have to be smart. And there's a smarter way to accomplish this mission than this president is pursuing," he told reporters.
Republicans rejected the criticism, with Bush's re-election campaign chairman Marc Racicot (search) calling Kerry's comments "a political attack that is very, very seriously undermining our efforts in Iraq and in the war on terror."
Kerry attended several fund-raisers, collecting $6.5 million for his campaign and $2.4 million for the Democratic National Committee at a hotel and nightclub. Through March, Kerry had raised a Democratic record of some $50 million.