Kerry Pays Respects to Reagan

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search), suspending overt political activities this week in deference to Ronald Reagan, briefly paid his respects before the late president's flag-draped casket.

The last-minute trip Tuesday to Reagan's presidential library in Simi Valley where the GOP icon's body lay in repose was one of the few times this week that Kerry appeared in public.

Reagan died Saturday and the national spotlight that had been on politics and the presumptive Democratic nominee suddenly shifted, all but forcing Kerry to strike a delicate balance in his White House bid.

By being largely absent from the campaign trail this week, Kerry risks losing momentum with voters just as President Bush's popularity is at its most vulnerable. But to do anything else would appear unseemly amid the outpouring of praise for a president remembered for bridging political divisions.

Just how soon Kerry will return to a full campaign schedule has not yet been decided and Kerry aides are divided on the issue as they had been over whether to cancel the week's schedule.

"Campaigning is campaigning, regardless of where you are and what you're doing," said Stephanie Cutter, the Democrat's spokeswoman. "Out of respect for President Reagan and his family, he felt canceling those campaign events was the right thing to do."

Marc Kruman, a Wayne State University professor and expert in the history of presidential elections, said nobody outside Washington will fault Kerry for taking a week off the campaign trail.

"It strikes me as a wise decision. He's not going to get any national political attention and it shows his respect for President Reagan, which is appropriate this week," Kruman said.

Some Democrats applauded Kerry's decision to set politics aside, though some privately complained that he didn't at least schedule a few nonpartisan events in battleground states that could have gained him some local media notice.

Meanwhile, Bush once again has the advantage of the incumbent and can go about the business of the president without fear of appearing insensitive. By attending D-Day ceremonies in France and hosting world leaders for the Group of Eight summit Bush takes center stage for a week, unchallenged by Kerry or his immediate surrogates.

Bush also will deliver the eulogy for Reagan during a state funeral Friday at Washington's National Cathedral. Kerry also will attend but he'll be one of dozens of notables there.

On Tuesday, Kerry spent about a minute paying his respects to Reagan in a 20-minute visit to the library in suburban Los Angeles. Kerry had traveled to California to attend his daughter's graduation from film school Wednesday.

The Roman Catholic bowed his head, closed his eyes and stood silently for a moment before making the sign of the cross and quietly reciting the accompanying prayer before departing.

Aboard his campaign plane, Kerry spoke to reporters about Reagan, the current White House occupant -- Bush -- and Bush's father.

"I didn't agree with a lot of the things he was doing, obviously," Kerry said of Reagan, whom he called a "very likable guy." But he added that he got along well with the Republican, was able to work with him and visited the White House a number of times during his two terms.

"I met with Reagan a lot more than I've met with this president," Kerry said.

The Democrat also said he had more meetings with George H.W. Bush during his one term than he has had with President Bush.

"I liked his father very much. I like his dad. He's a very good guy. He used to write notes. I have a number of notes from him. He's very thoughtful," Kerry said.

Kerry said he first took note of Reagan in the 1960s, a time when some were wary of the California Republican.

"He got your notice," Kerry said. He praised Reagan's 1964 speech for Barry Goldwater, calling it "better than anything else you heard from the campaign."

Kerry plans to return to Washington early Thursday.