Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 54° Partly Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Kerry focuses on veterans, health costs in Florida

Lesley Clark Knight Ridder

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — John Kerry took his presidential campaign to reliably Republican North Florida on Tuesday, appealing to veterans while accusing President Bush of failing to offer a solution to soaring health care costs.

With a riverfront mall as a backdrop, Kerry sought to portray Bush as more interested in tax cuts for the wealthy than affordable health insurance for small businesses and their employees. He opened up a round of audience participation by asking the enthusiastic crowd to raise their hands if their insurance premiums had gone up: The majority did, raising their hands again when Kerry asked if their benefits had been cut.

“It is long-since time that we stopped being the only industrial nation on the planet that doesn’t understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy and the connected and the elected, it’s a right for all Americans,” Kerry said, charging that companies are down-sizing “because this president doesn’t have the strength” to stand up to the “pharmaceutical industry and the HMOs.”

The GOP-leaning Jacksonville area served as the first Florida stop during Kerry’s three-day, multi-state campaign swing on pocketbook issues like health care, and campaign strategists said it underscores his intention to fight for the state that recent polls show is as sharply divided as it was in 2000.

A handful of protesters greeted Kerry at the Jacksonville Landing, while overhead a plane trailed a banner reading, “Florida is Bush Country.”

Kerry, who was given a Jacksonville Jaguars T-shirt, made several nods to the heavy military presence in the area, criticizing Bush for cutting veterans’ benefits and charging that “the first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who wear the uniform of this country.”

As he has in other stops, the decorated Vietnam veteran was greeted by a contingent of local veterans, including Ron Nordman, a military retiree who said he was so Republican, “I was even for Nixon before I was old enough to vote.”

Nordman, though, served on the USS Gridley with Kerry in 1967 and said Tuesday he has nothing but praise for the fellow Vietnam veteran he remembers as “gung-ho.”

“I was kind of a hawk back then and I was all for the war, but he was even more so,” said Nordman. “He really wanted to see things done right and he would stand up and fight for what he believed was right.”

Kerry rejected suggestions that questioning the war in Iraq undermines support for the U.S. effort.

“Problems with what’s happening in Iraq in terms of the conduct of the war are not the fault of criticism,” he told a Jacksonville TV station. “They are they fault of decisions that have been made by the administration.”

Asked by reporters what he would do about abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, Kerry said: “The important thing is for the country now to get its path in Iraq correct. We need to come together and I’m hopeful that we will.”

Mostly, Kerry stuck to the health care theme he is addressing in four key battleground states, touting a plan he says would reduce families’ health care costs by 10 percent.

Kerry’s plan, which includes creating a federal insurance pool for catastrophic health care, would be paid for by repealing the Bush tax cuts for Americans who make more than $200,000.

Kerry said that in Florida, the total family premium for health insurance increased four times faster than workers’ earnings since Bush took office, and that 223,000 Floridians have lost insurance.

Republicans have accused Kerry of being a Johnny-come-lately to the topic.

Carole Jean Jordan, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida, took up the charge on Tuesday, calling Kerry’s plan a “disaster for families across Florida.”

The senator’s proposal, she said, “would create a taxpayer subsidized, socialist health care system in which competition is non-existent.”

On Wednesday, Kerry will stick to health care, holding a town hall meeting in an Orlando, Fla., neighborhood center. He’ll also meet privately with a group of health care workers, including some who are on strike at several Seacrest nursing homes.

Nurses with Pan American Hospital in Miami — who are pushing to be represented by a union — also will meet him.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.