TACOMA, Wash. – Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) said Saturday he's in a "fighting mood" with two months to go to the presidential election as his allies defended him from questions about his valor in Vietnam.
"For the last four years, we've had a dark cloud over Washington," Kerry told several thousand people gathered under overcast skies. "We're going to get rid of it on November 2."
In a 45-minute speech, Kerry stuck to offense against Bush's record and left defense against the Vietnam War criticisms that have dominated the race the last two weeks to two other veterans who introduced him.
Kerry's Democratic primary rival Wesley Clark (search), his voice rising to a yell, suggested President Bush is behind the criticisms being aired by veterans who say Kerry lied to get medals and then disgraced the country with his anti-war activism after returning home.
"I think that it's outrageous that the president of the United States can question the medals and the service and the valor of American veterans who have served," said Clark, a retired four-star Army general. "It's offensive against every veteran in this country."
Relying heavily on money and help from Republicans, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) have made the claims, many of which have been disputed by Navy documents and other veterans.
Bush has said he's not behind the criticisms and he doesn't think Kerry lied to get his medals. Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Clark's comments were "another flailing baseless attack that underscores the hypocrisy of John Kerry's entire campaign."
Kerry clapped and nodded as Clark spoke, but didn't mention criticisms of his record during his speech.
Jim Rassmann, the former Special Forces officer whom Kerry rescued from the Mekong Delta 35 years ago to earn a Bronze Star, said Kerry's courage was unquestionable. "I saw it happen time after time," he said.
"I trust him," Rassmann said. "I want to have him at my back as president of the United States."
Following the rally, Kerry visited former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman John Shalikashvili, who suffered a stroke shortly after the Democratic convention and is in a hospital in Fort Lewis, Wash. The retired Army general, an adviser to the Kerry campaign, had endorsed the candidate at the convention.
After visiting Washington state, Kerry was heading to his beachfront home in Nantucket, Mass., where he planned to plot strategy for the final two months of the presidential campaign.
"We've got 66 days to go, and I'm in a fighting mood," he said.
Kerry plans to break from the tradition of staying off the trail during the opposing party's convention with a speech Wednesday at the American Legion. Aides said it had not been determined whether he would address the Vietnam-era controversy in his appearance before the country's largest veterans' organization.