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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Heinz Kerry Says Anger Led to Party Switch

Democratic hopeful's wife describes 'disgust' over GOP campaign against a wounded vet.

June 16, 2004|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Teresa Heinz Kerry, who remained a registered Republican several years after marrying Sen. John F. Kerry in 1995, ultimately left the GOP out of "disgust," she said Tuesday.

The wife of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee switched her party affiliation in 2002. She said Tuesday that she was angry at Republican attacks on Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) during his reelection campaign that year.

Cleland, a wounded veteran, was targeted in a negative ad by his opponent, then-Rep. Saxby Chambliss, who went on to win the race.

Chambliss' TV spot featured images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and questioned Cleland's commitment to national security because he opposed President Bush's version of a bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.

Cleland backed a bill that included stronger labor protections for the agency's employees. Democrats were outraged at the Republican ad and defended the patriotism of Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in a grenade blast during the Vietnam War.

"Three limbs, and all I could think was, 'What does the Republican Party need, a fourth limb to make a person a hero?' " Heinz Kerry said in an interview broadcast on the "CBS Evening News." "And this coming from people who have not served. I was really offended by that."

Heinz Kerry's comment apparently was aimed not only at Chambliss, but also at Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Some have questioned whether Bush fulfilled his service commitment to the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Cheney received student deferments from the draft, and Chambliss was rejected for military service because of a bad knee.

Kerry enlisted in the Navy and won several medals during his duty in Vietnam, a record the Massachusetts senator has emphasized during his presidential campaign.

Heinz Kerry's move to the Democratic ranks coincided with her husband's announcement of his presidential bid in December 2002. She previously was married to a Republican senator, John Heinz of Pennsylvania, who died in a plane crash in 1991.

Heinz Kerry inherited an estimated $500 million from Heinz. A philanthropist, she has guarded the privacy of her finances and those of her children. Resisting calls to detail her wealth, she has disclosed limited financial information and pledged to release only the first two summary pages of her tax returns when they are filed in October.

"Anything that I have that is joint with my children, I will not divulge. Period," she reiterated Tuesday.

Kerry, interviewed by CBS in a separate segment, bristled at criticism of his wife as having a blunt-spoken style.

"When it's silly stuff, and a lot of it is incredibly unfactual, I get angry about it," he told CBS. He described Heinz Kerry, a Mozambique native born to Portuguese parents, as "Saucy, sexy, brilliant."

Heinz Kerry, 65, seemed to agree with his appraisal.

"I'm cheeky, I'm sexy -- whatever," she said. "You know, I've got a lot of life inside."

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