WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) is taking an unexpected week off the campaign trail, canceling all public events through Friday, when the nation buries former President Reagan.
The interruption of his campaign comes as Kerry is in a tight race with President Bush. But with the nation mourning one of its icons, partisan battles are out of the question, aides said Sunday.
"President Reagan's death is a time to put politics aside," said Kerry communications director Stephanie Cutter. "When a former president passes away, it's the end of an important chapter in history and it deserves respect."
Kerry went ahead with a speech Sunday to a Michigan high school's graduating class, but used the address to make a tribute to Reagan. Reagan was president when Kerry was first elected to the Senate in 1984, and the two had differences over economics and foreign affairs. Kerry told reporters that Reagan "always disagreed with a smile, without partisanship."
"Because of the way he led, he taught us that there was a difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship," Kerry told graduating seniors at Bedford High School, which held its commencement across the Ohio state line at the University of Toledo.
Afterward, Kerry canceled the rest of his campaign events for the week and flew back to Washington, where Reagan's body will be brought this week for a funeral at the National Cathedral.
The events Kerry canceled include two star-studded fund-raisers that would have raised millions of dollars for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee (search) — in Los Angeles on Monday and in New York on Thursday. Performers who were participating included Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, Jon Bon Jovi, James Taylor and John Mellencamp.
Tickets cost as much as $1,000, and Democrats said they would reschedule the concerts soon. They must coordinate dates with the performers, and some of the stars may have conflicts that keep them from participating on the new date.
Democrats briefly considered continuing the concerts without Kerry present, but ultimately decided that it would be unthinkable even to have associates hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities while the nation mourns a former president.
Cutter said suspending the campaign was a "unanimous decision" among the campaign and the performers.
Kerry will continue running television ads during the week. His advisers decided by the time they pulled them off the air, the week would be coming to a close. Besides, the ads airing currently do not attack Bush, but positively highlight Kerry's record.
Bush is running ads critical of Kerry and is not pulling those spots, either. Spokesman Steve Schmidt said the Republican campaign would continue many normal activities throughout the week, including announcement of state leadership teams.
But Bush's advisers decided to cancel this week's plans to criticize Kerry for his position on the Patriot Act, which expanded the government's surveillance and detention powers following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Bush's campaign Web site also has been made into a tribute to Reagan, who Schmidt called "a true American hero and the embodiment of our party's ideals."
Kerry has taken other time off the campaign trail this year. He went skiing and snowboarding in Idaho for six days in March, and took four days off a couple weeks later to have minor shoulder surgery.
During this week of unscheduled time off, Kerry said he will do some office work that has been neglected as he travels the country. Meanwhile, Bush will command attention while attending the Group of Eight meeting of world leaders in Georgia, speaking at Reagan's funeral and performing other presidential duties.