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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE | CAMPAIGN 2004 / TRAIL
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Pop Star on the Sidelines for Kerry

March 21, 2004

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — As usual, John F. Kerry drew a crowd as he visited a local deli, chatting up diners while a dozen Secret Service agents waited outside by his motorcade. A knot of spectators gathered on the sidewalk, straining to see the man causing all the commotion.

But one Kerry supporter, sporting sunglasses and an amused smile, watched the scene from several paces away. For boy-band member Chris Kirkpatrick of NSync fame, who blended into the background for a change, the gathering didn't compare to the hordes of hyperventilating preteens his pop group attracted worldwide.

But Kirkpatrick wasn't there to be in the spotlight. The Orlando native was hanging out with Kerry for the day, looking for ways to get more young people interested in politics.

Kirkpatrick first met the Massachusetts senator in December, when a friend who worked for the Kerry campaign invited him to swing by the Florida Democratic Convention in Orlando. Kirkpatrick liked what Kerry had to say, and the fact that he was a Vietnam veteran.

Then Kerry's campaign took off.

"My friends were calling me saying, 'Hey, that guy you met, he's the guy!' " Kirkpatrick recalled with a laugh.

Now he's brainstorming ways to bring together friends in the music industry to do something on Kerry's behalf.

Political activism is newfound for the 32-year-old, who thinks he's a registered Democrat but isn't sure. He didn't vote in 2000, when the presidential campaign ended in a long recount battle in his state -- he was on tour in Europe.

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Politics Isn't Funny

The U.S. Senate, among the most staid of national institutions, is famous for its power, gravitas and now -- corny jokes.

At least that's what humorist Jeff Hargrave hopes. The online comedian has put one over on 100 senators through a prank on his humor website, www.zug.com. Posing as a 10-year-old boy, Hargrave mailed a letter penned in a childish scrawl to all U.S. senators, asking for their favorite jokes as part of a fifth-grade social studies project.

Their replies (or lack thereof) helped Hargrave create lists of America's funniest -- and unfunniest -- senators. Fifteen made the funniest cut; they were the only ones who sent jokes or vaguely encouraging replies to the fictional grade-schooler. That elite, bipartisan group was united in its overall corniness.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) was named funniest, boosted in part by the cool quotient of his judo expertise, motorcycle knowledge and jewelry designs. Campbell's offering: "Why did the pig have ink all over his face? Because it came out of the pen."

Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.) also chose a pun: "Latin isn't dead. It's just 'Roman' around."

At least they sent in actual jokes -- Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) copped out, with the first responding that he valued a sense of humor and the other saying he enjoyed laughing. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) sent in half a joke: "Learn from the mistakes of others -- you can never live long enough to make them all yourself."

Hargrave declared Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) the unfunniest; none wrote back, somehow resisting the pleas of a supposed 10-year-old.

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The Science of Winning

John F. Kerry's got the 2004 election in the bag -- at least according to one scientific study.

The Requisite Organization International Institute, which measures the capability levels of business executives and politicians, found that Kerry ranked higher in problem-solving ability than President Bush did. Kerry, the group predicts, will win the nation's highest office as a result.

"What we're looking at here is the ability to sustain a course of action in spite of the obstacles that come up," said Kathryn Cason, the president and cofounder of the Gloucester, Mass., company.

The scores -- Kerry earned a 7 compared with Bush's 6 (with a score of 9 being outstanding) -- are based on analyses of debate transcripts, which show candidates' capacity to work through complex problems under pressure.

The index's theory proved true in evaluations of the last 10 presidential elections, in which the higher-scoring man won.

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Duly Quoted

"Welcome to 'The Tonight Show,' the late-night television show preferred by 8 out of 10 foreign leaders. Which foreign leaders? I can't tell you, but they are supporting me." -- Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight Show" Friday, referring to John F. Kerry's unwillingness to name foreign leaders with whom he said he had spoken.

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Compiled from staff, Web and wire reports by Times staff researcher Susannah Rosenblatt.

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