Kerry faces O'Reilly
The long-shot Democrat focused on critiquing Kerry's tenure in office but had little time to introduce himself or his own plans to an electorate that doesn't know much about him, and he struggled to knock Kerry off his game.
Kerry, who is seeking a fifth term in the Senate, dismissed O'Reilly at times for lacking the experience and understanding of Washington politics. And Kerry vowed to continue to fight for federal spending in Massachusetts and to be a leader on energy reform and environmental protection.
He said he was proud of his record and wanted to build on his achievements and work with the man he hopes will be the next president, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
O'Reilly, suggesting Kerry has been angling for a job as secretary of state, tried to get Kerry to commit to his full, six-year term if elected or to pay for the special election that would result if he took another job.
"I am only running for one job; I'm not asking for any other job. I'm not looking for any other job," Kerry said. "I intend to serve my term if I'm elected. That's what I'm doing."
The debate, moderated by WBZ political analyst Jon Keller, will air at 8:30 a.m. Sunday on Channel 4.
O'Reilly questioned Kerry on his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq, suggesting Kerry never read the National Intelligence Estimate on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Quoting from a book written by Kerry advisor Robert Shrum, O'Reilly said Kerry called Shrum to discuss the political ramifications of the vote on his presidential hopes instead of making a decision that was best for the country.
"I did something better than read it, and that really shows Ed's lack of understanding about due diligence in Washington," Kerry said. "I actually met with the CIA teams. I actually went to the Pentagon and sat down with the secretary of defense." The state's junior senator said he based his decision solely on what he believed to be in the best interest of national security.
Kerry is facing his first primary challenge in the 24 years since he was elected to the Senate in 1984 and is trying to trade on his lengthy experience.
Taking a question about whom to call if he wanted to preserve an important budget item for the technology sector, O'Reilly appeared caught off guard, naming the Department of Commerce and a questionable agency he called the "New England Council of Biotech Industries."
The half-hour debate (including commercial breaks) will likely be the only time the two Democrats square off before the Sept. 16 primary.
O'Reilly has repeatedly challenged Kerry to as many as 23 debates in every county in the state, but Kerry has insisted he is too busy with his work as a senator and his own campaign to engage the political newcomer that often.
The Kerry campaign agreed to this one debate, a forum O'Reilly said he was eager to accept but did not consider adequate for the voters to hear both candidates on the issues.
"It was very short," O'Reilly said. "There were a lot of issues I wanted to get into that I thought were relevant, special interests and money in politics. I wish we could've gotten into that. You know, I think it went well, but you know, there's a lot more we need to discuss. I wish we had more debates; I think that we could get into the issues a little bit more deeply."
O'Reilly did use the brief time he had to criticize Kerry's leadership in the Senate, questioning why Kerry is not chairman of a more powerful committee than the Small Business Committee.
Kerry also sits as the third ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee and serves in a number of other posts.
He also questioned Kerry's ability to deliver money and programs to Massachusetts and suggested the senator was one of the cheapest when it comes to spreading his campaign wealth to other Democrats.
"That's just plain, flat untrue," said Kerry, who added that he raised $14 million for Democratic candidates and the party to help bring people to Washington, D.C., who will bring about change.
Kerry said he had secured $267 million in federal funding for Massachusetts, which helped build small business centers for women, care for veterans and invest in renewable energy.
"I have offered leadership for 24 years on issue after issue, none more than energy," Kerry said. "Al Gore has said I'm the strongest voice in the Senate for the environment and energy independence."
The winner of the primary will face Republican Jeff Beatty of Harwich in the November general election.
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