Trail Dust: Patriotism Under Attack

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," April 24, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Political mud slinging is the topic of this week's trail dust.

John Kerry (search) says his patriotism and his Vietnam record are under attack, including whether his receiving a Purple Heart and other awards was merited in Vietnam. And who does the Kerry camp blame? The Bush campaign and its Republican attack machine.

Here's the campaign's chairman duking it out on "Fox News Sunday" last week. Watch.


MARC RACICOT (R), CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY '04: We've never said anything other than to voice our respect for John Kerry's service to this country, absolutely nothing. We would never question his patriotism.

JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), CHAIRMAN, KERRY CAMPAIGN: The fact is, the Bush and the Republicans attack machine has been out there calling into question John Kerry's courage and his commitment to the military. And that is unconscionable. John Kerry served with honor, with valor. What we have seen from all of the military records is that all of his superiors said that.


BARNES: I am sitting here with the self- appointed but impartial judge of what is a low blow and what is not a low blow in this campaign, that's you, Mort.


BARNES: What about this Kerry business?

KONDRACKE: So I called up the Democratic National Committee (search), the research department, and I said, OK, send me the, a list of the worst things that the Republican attack machine, so-called, has said about John Kerry. And they sent me a list that headlines "As Bush approval rating drops, the Rove-Gillespie" -- that's Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the RNC -- "smear machine goes into full gear."

Now, if you read through this, what emerges is that there are occasional questions about patriotism and about his service...

and about, you know, whether he deserved a Purple Heart during the Vietnam War, all by people who have nothing to do with the Republican National Committee or the Bush campaign, with the exception of Sam Johnson, actually even that is...

They're veterans, they're people who served with Kerry, they're have nothing to do with the Republican establishment.

The questions get ... arise about his post-Vietnam service anti-war record. Now, I think that Sam Johnson of Texas, a congressman who was a POW, on the Senate, on the House floor, said that, called Kerry Hanoi John. I think that's, that's going over the line.

BARNES: Yes, for his postwar anti-Vietnam record.

KONDRACKE: For his postwar activities, right. Now, and, you know, and there's questions about whether he threw his medals over the fence and stuff like that, which I think is basically a nonsense issue.

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: But, but then, you have Dick Cheney questioning his 19- year voting record...

BARNES: Right.

KONDRACKE: ... on national defense issues, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.

Now, I think that all this Vietnam stuff is garbage, and that what we should be focusing on is not what people did during the 1970s but rather what, the future of America ... for heaven's sakes.

BARNES: ... but I have one more question about the '70s. What about Kerry's charge that Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney went out of their way to avoid military service?

KONDRACKE: Well, out, out of their way, I mean...


KONDRACKE: ... it, that, that requires proof. There is no proof. And until there is proof, that seems to me a low blow.

BARNES: OK, good.

KONDRACKE: All right.

BARNES: Or bad.

KONDRACKE: It's time to check out this week's batch of new statewide polls in the battleground states. We begin in Pennsylvania. Gore won there in 2000. It's all tied up with 42 percent this year, with Ralph Nader in the race. We go next to the first of the nation primary state, New Hampshire, John Kerry has a 2-point lead there. President Bush won that state with about 1 percent of the vote.

And in Wisconsin, a brand-new poll shows President Bush opening up a 12-point lead, which seems like a lot. Al Gore won Wisconsin by less than 6,000 votes. And in Oregon, a new poll shows Kerry up by 2. Gore won that state in 2000 by less than 1 percent of the vote.

BARNES: So, taking into account these new polls, here's what this week's Electoral Scoreboard looks like. New Hampshire moves to Kerry's column. Bush picks up Wisconsin and keeps Pennsylvania, although it's tied in the latest poll. He's leading all the other recent polls in Pennsylvania.

So Bush has 310 electoral votes, Kerry has 228.

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