PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Presidential hopeful John Kerry (search) on Monday called himself the only Democrat in the race who hasn't "played games" on the abortion issue.
Kerry, campaigning for votes in New Hampshire's leadoff primary Tuesday, repeated his pledge to appoint to the Supreme Court only those who would support abortion rights.
Each of the seven major candidates for the Democratic nomination supports the right to abortion. President Bush, however, supports abortion only in cases of rape or incest or when a woman's life is endangered.
Kerry's closest competitor, Howard Dean (search), has said he would choose judicial nominees who support constitutional privacy protections, which includes abortion rights. Their rival Dennis Kucinich also holds that view.
"I'm the only candidate running for president who hasn't played games, fudged around," said Kerry, a Massachusetts senator. "If you believe that choice is a constitutional right, and I do, and if you believe that Roe v. Wade (search) is the embodiment of that right ... I will not appoint a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States who will undo that right."
In response, Dean noted that he once sat on the board of Planned Parenthood (search) in northern New England.
"Senator Kerry just last spring couldn't give a straight answer on where he was on parental notification," Dean said in an interview with New England Cable News. "He appeared to support it in the Boston Globe and then he came up and denied he supported it in New Hampshire. So I think Senator Kerry has a bit of explaining to do on his position on abortion rights."
Roger Salazar, a spokesman for John Edwards, said the North Carolina senator has a "100 percent record supporting a woman's right to choose," including late-term abortions.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut joined Kerry in voting against Senate proposals to ban so-called "partial-birth" abortions. Edwards did not vote on the partial-birth bills the two times they came up in the last year, but cast many votes on issues leading to the final vote, Salazar said.
Wesley Clark, a retired Army general, has said he supports abortion rights but also a 1992 court case that resulted in states being allowed to impose certain restrictions as long as they don't cause an "undue burden" on the woman.
At the same time, Kerry dismissed worries that he is vulnerable to being labeled just another liberal by Bush and other Republicans if he were the Democratic nominee.
"If the worst they can say about me is that I'm a liberal or something, bring it on," he said. "I'll take that anywhere in the country."
Kerry rode in buses and helicopters Monday during a marathon of campaigning, scheduling six rallies around the state and a late-night visit with staffers and volunteers in Manchester.
Except for vowing to meet with more voters than any other candidate, Kerry was spending the day ignoring his rivals to focus on his stand on issues. He said his message is resonating in all parts of the country, including the South and other areas in which Democrats have not won.
"The South is not a foreign country," he said. "If all they want to do in this campaign is throw labels around, they've got a problem."
Kerry said voters in all regions of the country respond to the same message of bolstering the economy and social justice. "What we need to do is go across this country and connect the dots for people," he said.
During a speech before about 500 people at Keene State College, Kerry defended his vote to authorize Bush to use force in Iraq. A member of the audience had told the senator the vote had "horrified" him.
"For seven and half years we destroyed weapons of mass destruction," Kerry said, and officials had assured him they would be found. "I voted for a process promised by the president."
Kerry said women play a prominent role in his campaign. His campaign manager is Mary Beth Cahill, and several top advisers are women.
"Women are running the Kerry effort, ladies and gentlemen," he told a crowd in Portsmouth. "If that doesn't say enough, I don't know what does."