Kerry stumps at the U

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., unveiled a new veterans group to a crowd of 5,000 at the Sports Pavilion.

Stephanie Kudrle

Although summer has depleted the number of students on campus, they came out in large numbers, among other Minnesota residents, to hear Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., speak at the Sports Pavilion on Friday.

Kerry spoke to a crowd of approximately 5,000 about veterans’ issues, the Iraq war and rebuilding foreign alliances during his brief visit to Minnesota, which unveiled a new political group called “Veterans for Kerry.”

Jeff Brletich, a Vietnam veteran who is finishing a psychology degree at the University, said Kerry should not be criticized for his military history – which includes serving in and protesting against the Vietnam War.

Kerry would be a stronger military leader than President George W. Bush because of his service in Vietnam, Brletich said.

He said he is afraid to have Bush in office for four more years and would like to campaign for Kerry. He also hopes Kerry’s candidacy continues to gain support.

During his speech, Kerry said Bush was leading the country in the wrong direction and destroying long-standing friendships with America’s allies.

“The U.S. should never go to war because we want to,” Kerry said. “We go to war because we have to.”

He also criticized Bush’s deployment of the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve to Iraq and said it has made the country less secure.

If elected, Kerry said he would write a military families’ Bill of Rights to prevent a “back door draft” or extension of service tours without allowing soldiers to return home.

He said America needs to reach out to the rest of the world for help in rebuilding Iraq.

“The first duty of a commander in chief is to make America strong and keep Americans safe,” Kerry said. “It’s time do what it takes to build an America that is respected in the world once more.”

The rally centered mostly on veteran’s issues and foreign policy, but some students said Kerry would be a good advocate for issues important to college students, such as tuition and health care.

Peter O’Meara, a political science junior, said he supports Kerry’s plan to make college more affordable for students.

O’Meara, who interned with the Kerry campaign for two weeks, said he thinks Kerry would make a great president.

“He’s always taken the initiative to do what’s right,” O’Meara said.

O’Meara was in the crowd during the rally, trying to get attendees to chant “J.K. all the way.”

Medical student Will Nicholson said it is important for students to get involved with political issues such as health care.

Nicholson attended the event with friends from the University’s Medical School. Most of them stood at the front of the crowd wearing the white lab coats which are common to practicing doctors.

Many Kerry supporters at the rally were decorated with buttons, shirts and signs. Jessica Jerney, a 1999 University graduate, handed out abortion rights stickers to anyone who wanted one. She said she was at the rally to support Kerry’s abortion rights stance.

While some students came to support certain issues, others came just to check out Kerry and hear him speak.

“I wanted to see what he had to say,” senior computer engineering student Courtney Klos said. “I feel like it’s my duty.”

Ryan Peterson, a math and physiology senior, said he is trying to get more involved with politics and helped the University DFL group chalk sidewalks advertising Kerry’s visit.

“It’s a free event and I am trying to learn more about politics this summer,” he said. “So I thought it would be a good idea to come down and hear him speak.”

Prominent Minnesota DFLers also turned out for the event, and many spoke on Kerry’s behalf.

Rep. Martin Sabo, DFL-Fifth District, asked the crowd which presidential candidate was going to win in Minnesota this fall. The crowd responded “Kerry.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said it was time to change presidents because Bush has made America less safe and led the country into high debt.

“Are you safer now than you were four years ago?” he asked the crowd. “Does this country want to spend more on Iraq than on K-12 schools?”