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European Press Review: Can Kerry Beat Bush?

European papers on Thursday focused on U.S. Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry’s success on the campaign trail. Most warned Kerry had his work cut out if he was to dislodge Bush from the White House.


Sen. John Kerry is on course in the race to find a Democratic challenger to President Bush.

U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry won five of seven Democratic primaries on Tuesday. Dutch left-leaning paper Volkskrant wrote that Kerry’s success was based on the fact that "he’s trusted and seen as capable of being elected by many" as well as on his prestige that he built up as a Vietnam veteran and during his long stint in the U.S. Senate. "But so far his election campaign has seldom witnessed sweeping enthusiasm. One is still waiting for a political message that can stir American voters to entrust the highest post in the country to an acting senator for the first time since the days of John F. Kennedy," the daily concluded.

"Can John Kerry chase George W. Bush out of the White House?" French daily Liberation asked and added that the question had taken on new urgency since Kerry appeared to have good chances of being pitched as the Democrats’ presidential candidate. The paper mused that if the voters had already made Kerry a favorite or planned to do so, it was because they are convinced that he can be elected. "In Paris Kerry has already been declared as the most likely Democratic presidential hopeful," it wrote. "But to defeat an acting president, even a beleaguered one, the candidate must have outstanding qualities and the circumstances need to be exceptional," the broadsheet cautioned.

The Independent in London said if there is one lesson to be drawn from past American president campaigns, it is that favorites whether for nominations or for the White House become the target of brickbats as soon as they are identified. The paper expected the other Democrat hopefuls to turn their fire on the front-runner. "Kerry has proved his appeal to voters in the north, east, center and southwest of the country, he has attracted all classes, white Americans and Hispanics." But the daily warned, "Kerry must prepare himself for whatever the other candidates may dig up to use against him and dampen his voter appeal."

Belgian daily Le Soir was optimistic that Kerry’s surging popularity had the potential to unseat President Bush. "Everywhere the voter turnout has broken records, a sign for the mobilization of Democrat followers to remove the president from the White House," the paper wrote. "But more than the surveys that show that John Kerry and John Edwards will defeat him, it’s this resoluteness that must be unnerving George Bush because if affects states (Missouri and Arizona) that he (Bush) won only narrowly in 2000."

"A democratic people, who are in unanimous agreement that George W. Bush must go, are pinning their hopes on John Kerry and to a lesser extent on John Edwards. But is John Kerry really the man to execute that goal?" asked Zürich-based Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger. The paper pointed out that though Kerry had acquired the reputation of a solid and sound politician during his long years in the Washington Senate, he was definitely not a visionary. The Senator may possess the necessary stature, but his readiness to take on political risks still needs to be proven, the daily stressed.

Liberal Austrian daily Der Standard opined that John Kerry had hit the right note in his election campaign. "Kerry has – just like his rival John Edwards – always struck a mildly populist tone in his campaign and portrayed Bush, not without reason, as the president of ‘corporate America’, of the rich and the powerful," it wrote. The daily added that as the husband of a rich heiress who owns a billion-dollar ketchup company, Kerry wasn’t exactly in danger of ending up on the streets anytime soon. "But he (Kerry) has still understood the importance of profiling himself as the advocate of the lower and middle classes in the U.S., who are reeling from the Enron scandal and the latest tax cuts by the government and don't have much to laugh about under Bush."

Norway’s conservative Aftenposten observed that John Kerry seems to have the tail wind behind him, judging by his success so far in the primary elections. "However, Kerry must master a difficult balancing act with regard to wooing voters and keeping the ones who support him already," the paper warned. "The key is the level of criticism Kerry may use against the other candidates, which if too personal and petty, could repel voters," the daily wrote.

Germany’s conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung admired the activist zeal the Democrats have shown in recent months. "They’re positively burning with the desire to get George Bush out of the White House with a fury that is strategically focussed," the paper wrote. But it added, " the Democrats are seeking the most electable candidate which will be quite a challenge in a country that is so deeply divided."

Italian daily La Repubblica reflected that it’s still a long way off till the U.S. presidential election and the fortunes of the Democrats could rise and fall by then. "This long journey to the American presidential polls is marked by tides that rise and devour candidates and their hopes everyday. Today they appear to let Bush sink and let his two opponents rise, the nth ‘new Kennedy’ , Senator John Forbes Kerry and right after him the ‘new Clinton’, southerner John Edwards. The winds of optimism are allowing the hopes of the Democrats to take off right now."