DEMOCRATIC PRIMARIES Kerry, Clark point to military records to woo veterans

The two candidates are mustering support from the key bloc of voters.
LACONIA, N.H. -- As Sen. John Kerry scanned the audience Thursday for one final question, two hands shot up -- a veteran in uniform and a young girl. "I see a man in uniform and I see a child," he said.
"The child! The child!" the crowd yelled.
Kerry took the vet's.
Suddenly, veterans are front and center in Democratic politics. They've become a force in this presidential contest, sizing up the Massachusetts senator and retired Gen. Wesley Clark not just as candidates, but as kindred spirits.
Kerry, the former Navy lieutenant and Swift boat skipper in South Vietnam, and Clark, an Army captain in Vietnam who rose to become supreme commander of NATO, are mobilizing veterans as no Democratic candidate has since John Kennedy galvanized the World War II generation 44 years ago.
Not a speech goes by that Kerry and Clark don't mention veterans, salute them for their service and contrast themselves with President Bush. The two are competing head to head in New Hampshire -- a fight for the vet vote between the junior officer and the general.
"I'm trying to decide between Clark and Kerry," Jim Helsley, a retired Air Force pilot, said after hearing Clark at an American Legion Post in Rochester, N.H. "I would like to see them both on the ticket. I like the fact that they were both in the trenches like working men."
Interviews with Democratic and independent veterans indicate they're not only attracted to Clark's and Kerry's personal stories, but also motivated by antipathy toward Bush and the Iraq war. Veterans proved themselves in Iowa for Kerry, turning out by the busload from 16 states to campaign for him and eroding labor's organizational muscle for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
In the drive for the Democratic nomination, veterans have the potential to wield enormous power. Even in New Hampshire, where there are only 133,000 veterans, they can make a difference in the large field of candidates.
"They're the biggest voter bloc up for grabs," said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire Republican strategist who helped run the successful presidential primary for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2000.
The struggle to secure veterans' votes probably will continue into Feb. 3, when seven states, including South Carolina, with nearly 415,000 veterans, and Missouri, with 571,000, hold primaries that will further winnow the Democratic field.
To be sure, many veterans tend to vote Republican, and polls show that by and large they support Bush. But in highlighting their military backgrounds, Kerry and Clark also appeal to military families, who are much less likely to support the president, according to a survey last year by the bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas.
Records of valor
Both candidates have records of military valor.
Clark went from being first in his class (1966) at West Point to wearing four stars in directing NATO's bombing campaign to stop Serbs from ravaging Kosovo in 1999. In Vietnam, he was wounded and won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Kerry, who fought in Vietnam, then protested the war as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, presents a more complicated profile as a warrior than Clark does. He won two Bronze Stars and a Silver Star in Vietnam, then tossed the ribbons away in a protest. He kept the medals themselves, however, and mentions them with pride.
Kerry and Clark split over the war in Iraq.
Clark gave mixed signals, but generally opposed going to war before diplomacy was exhausted. Kerry voted in favor of the Senate resolution authorizing the use of force, but criticized Bush for going to war before exhausting diplomacy.
Both say the United States should seek more international cooperation to ease the burden on American soldiers and the national treasury.
The Clark campaign has 10 offices around the state, with a veterans outreach coordinator in each. There are "Veterans for Clark" pins, a Web site, an e-mailed newsletter and a hot line to call for information.
A campaign video, "American Son," features interviews with West Point classmates and footage of Clark getting the Medal of Honor from President Clinton. The last scene is a close-up of Clark in uniform.