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Group Of GIs Mocks Kerry Remarks

A group of Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Iraq has made a comically misspelled sign mocking Sen. John Kerry's recent comments about the education level of troops, and their handiwork is getting plenty of attention.

The Massachusetts Democrat told a group of college students this week that people who do not study and do their homework were likely to "get stuck in Iraq." Kerry has since apologized, saying he botched a joke meant to be about President Bush.

The photo shows eight soldiers holding a white sign with heavy blue letters spelling out, "Halp us Jon Carry - We R stuck hear n Irak."

The photo has appeared in newspapers and on television newscasts and Web sites. It was apparently first posted on the Web by radio host Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM in Milwaukee on Wednesday. It was provided by a listener, the station said.

Capt. J. Elaine Hunnicutt, a spokeswoman in the Joint Operations Center in Iraq, confirmed in an e-mail that the soldiers in the photo were from the Minnesota Guard and that commanders see it "as a humorous response."

The photo surfaced on the same day as Kerry's statement in which he apologized to "any service member, family member or American who was offended" by remarks deemed by Republicans and Democrats alike to be insulting to U.S. forces in Iraq.

The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee also said he sincerely regrets that his words were "misinterpreted to imply anything negative about those in uniform."

The war of words started when Kerry was talking to a group of students about education.

"If you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," Kerry said Tuesday.

That's not what he meant to say, he said. A spokeswoman says this was the prepared text:

"Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

Thursday, in Mississippi, Republican Sen. Trent Lott said he felt for Kerry as the remark hit the headlines. "I almost felt like calling John Kerry and saying, 'John, apologize and go home,"' said Lott.

In December 2002, Lott lost the chance to regain his position as majority leader after saying at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party that the country "wouldn't have had all these problems over the years" if it had elected Thurmond president in 1948. Thurmond was a strong segregationist at the time.

Kerry, who is not up for re-election, retreated from the national campaign spotlight as Democrats worried about the controversy with the midterm elections just days away.

"No one wants to have the 2004 election replayed," said Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, commenting earlier in the week.

A congressional candidate in Iowa said swiftly he no longer wanted him to appear at a scheduled rally. Kerry abandoned plans to attend events in Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports that a Republican campaign official told CBS that "John Kerry has given us what Democrats have had for months: an evil boogeyman. We spent $200 million last election getting people to hate John Kerry. Now we just tap right back into that."

"Whatever the intent, Senator Kerry was wrong to say what he said," said Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr., locked in a close Senate race in Tennessee.

"It was a real dumb thing to say," said Claire McCaskill, a Democrat in an equally tight Senate campaign in Missouri.

The White House accepted Kerry's statement as a legitimate apology.

"Senator Kerry's apology to the troops for his insulting comments came late but it was the right thing to do," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday.

She said it was too soon to say whether the White House will stop talking about the incident. "We'll see," Perino said. "Once he has apologized, I don't know that there is anything more to say."

Moments after Kerry issued his statement, House Majority Leader John Boehner, the No. 2 Republican in the House, said on CNN: "I think he has apologized. It sounds good enough."

For Republicans, it's a chance to change the subject, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

"The president always sets up a straw man because he won't debate a real man," Kerry snapped in an interview with columnist Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

With President Bush showing the way, Republicans had worked energetically to turn Kerry into an all-purpose target in a campaign that has long loomed as a loser for Republicans — much as they ridiculed him two years ago on their way to electoral gains.

"Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words. ... We've got incredible people in our military, and they deserve full praise and full support of this government," said Mr. Bush, in an interview with conservative talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

"Of course, now Senator Kerry says he was just making a joke, and he botched it up," Vice President Dick Cheney said in remarks prepared for a campaign appearance in Montana. "I guess we didn't get the nuance. He was for the joke before he was against it."

The jab was designed to recall Kerry's situation in the last election, when he had to defend his earlier vote for $87 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - before he voted against it.

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