DENVER — Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is courting an estimated 400,000 veterans and 100,000 active soldiers in Colorado, hoping his war record in Vietnam will take votes from President Bush in a state suddenly considered vital to the campaign.
Kerry met with a group of veterans Thursday after arriving in Denver to kick off his cross-country journey to the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
The tour will begin today at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver. The event originally was scheduled to begin at the military hospital in Aurora where Kerry was born, but campaign organizers
changed the location because of rain.
Kerry has featured the Fitzsimons Army
Hospital in national television ads, noting he was born there Dec. 11, 1943, after his father, Richard, who had volunteered to fly DC-3’s in the Army Air Corps in World War II, was sent to Aurora to recover from tuberculosis.
Bill Holen, coordinator of Colorado Veterans for Kerry, said veterans tend to support the commander in chief in a time of war. He said, however, that many veterans are switching to Kerry because of the war in Iraq, Bush’s lack of military experience and his record on veterans’ issues.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran. There’s a bond that exists,” Holen said. “Bush took the National Guard route, and we’re angry about that.”
Kerry saluted Holen when he arrived in Denver, and the two chatted briefly before Kerry went down the line talking to the 18 veterans who met him at the airport.
“We talked about the importance of Colorado in the election, and I told him every time he comes here it helps him two or three percentage points,” Holen said.
Kerry also met two men in the group of veterans who were born at Fitzsimons, and suggested they have a reunion.
Bush campaign spokesman Danny Diaz said other veterans groups, including Veterans for Bush, are supporting the president. He said Bush has increased medical care for veterans by 40 percent, increased pay for soldiers and fought to get them equipment.
“This president has been a good friend to veterans and to our military,” Diaz said.
Diaz also said many veterans are upset with Kerry for speaking out against the Vietnam war and for voting against funding to help the military in Iraq.
Holen’s group is trying to rally the 446,385 veterans listed in the 2000 Census in Colorado and appeal to active soldiers at Colorado’s numerous military installations, including Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, the Air Force Academy, and Fort Carson, Peterson and Falcon Air Force bases in Colorado Springs.
Republican political consultant Katy Atkinson said Colorado’s military contingent could be a key factor in the November election because veterans are more likely to take active roles in campaigns, and to get out and vote.