Kerry Takes War Issue Head-On

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., center, addresses a crowd during a town hall style meeting as Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, left, looks on at the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, in Milwaukee, Wis., Thursday, April 8, 2004.
The plan for the Kerry campaign this week had been: Stick with the script, stay on the economy.

But as CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, with American casualties mounting in Iraq and pressure building within the Democratic Party, John Kerry can no longer ignore the issue.

"It would be inappropriate for me to come here and not say something about what's happening in Iraq," he said Thursday in Wisconsin.

So the script was set aside.

"Once again we are asking the question, 'Why is the United States of America almost alone and carrying this burden?'" said Kerry.

He used even stronger language in a radio interview Wednesday.

"This is one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time I've been in public life," he said.

It is a delicate tightrope that Kerry must walk: show how he differs from President Bush without appearing to politicize the bloodshed in Iraq, and more importantly, don't simply criticize but offer a plan.

And voters are already demanding specifics.

One of his supporters recently asked Kerry: "If you could, please articulate an exit strategy?"

Thus far he's left most of the specifics to his surrogates.

"He's indicated that we need to turn this over to the Security Council and get other nations in on the deal," says Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.

The Bush campaign is counting on the President's handling of the war in Iraq to be an asset next fall. But Kerry and his supporters now see an opening.

"If he lays out an agenda, if he talks about it from the perspective of someone who's been a policy maker and someone who's served on the frontlines, he will win the debate with George W. Bush," says Chris Lehane, a spokesman for one-time democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark.

Kerry has yet to give real details about how he would deal with iraq, but if the violence continues, he may be forced to, Pitts reports.