John Kerry is not loved by those attending the Republican National Convention, but he is not universally loathed either.
In fact, convention delegates and guests interviewed at the convention claim they have thought little about the Massachusetts senator one way or the other — a contrast with last month's Democratic convention where President Bush was near the top of many delegates' minds.
"The other side seems fueled by hate," said alternate Missouri delegate Matt Gerstner. "Not only myself but, I think, a majority of the Republicans here respect Kerry. They respect his service. They just disagree with his positions.
"We just love our candidate and our vision," Gerstner said.
Not every Republican puts it quite that way. The Kerry campaign and some veterans reacted furiously when some delegates at Monday's session sported Band-aids with a purple heart on them mocking Kerry's war wounds.
On the convention stage, Republicans have actually drawn a sharper contrast between Mr. Bush and Kerry than Democrats did. In part, that is because Kerry's convention was focused on introducing him to voters, while Mr. Bush's supporters, pitching a well-known product, have more time to spend deriding the opposition.
And Kerry certainly has felt his, from a group of veterans who oppose him and several leading Republicans — Bob Dole, former President Bush and Laura Bush — who have given measured backing to those attacks.
But the Republican rank-and-file seem to talk less about Kerry than their Democratic counterparts did about President Bush. When asked about Kerry, many Republicans have little to say.
"Well, I think he's a fairly decent guy," said Ted Holbert of Tennessee. "But I just don't think he's the right man in this time and place for the job."
Of the war on terrorism, Holbert says, "I think it's a very unified force that we're fighting against that's international, and I think George Bush recognizes that and he's taking the only approach that's possible."
"I don't dislike John Kerry," said Ted Newton of North Carolina. "He lacks a lot of the experience that would be helpful in being a president and I'm not at all impressed with what he would likely do in protecting the country. I think that Bush has the experience and we've seen him in action and I think that I feel more comfortable with his leadership."
Some delegates and guests said Kerry has not made much of an impression on them, and promptly added that this pointed to his lack of legislative accomplishments.
"At least you know where Teddy stands," said one Iowan guest, comparing Kerry's legislative accomplishments to those of his fellow Massachusetts senator, Edward Kennedy. Others echoed the charge that Kerry lacked firm positions on key issues.
Predictably, some said the positions that Kerry did take were too liberal.
"I'd say he's from the liberal caucus," said Dr. Buddy Witherspoon, a conventioneer from South Carolina, "and there's no question that he's not the best fitted for the job of presidency of the United States. His best job is representing Massachusetts, the state he comes from."
Stephen Eisenberg of Manhattan, a Republican not attending the convention but wearing a pin with a red slash over John Kerry's face and carrying a sign depicting the nominee as a flip-flopper, said he feels very little about Kerry, but strongly opposes the senator's record on defense funding and tax cuts.
"Is he a good person?" Eisenberg said, prompted by a question. "Probably. I don't know. I've never known the man."
"John Kerry does not inspire confidence in me," he added.
Others are more explicit.
"He's phony and his wife is a flake," said Bonnie Norton of New Orleans. Her husband Mike Norton added, "I'd say he's more interested in killing babies than in protecting our troops." The couple added that they felt Kerry was under-qualified and egocentric.
Several delegates and guests said they were puzzled and annoyed by Kerry's making the Vietnam War so central to the campaign. On the convention floor, Gary Bunker of South Carolina, whose father was killed in Vietnam, said he found it "despicable that he tried to turn himself into a regular Audie Murphy, into a war hero based on four months of service when the war heroes were staying there for two, three terms.
"Outside of that I find him too liberal on the political side but my real animosity is toward his phoniness when it comes to his war record," Bunker said.
In Boston, many delegates also claimed to be more interested in electing Kerry than tearing down Mr. Bush. But there was a. No one admitted to "hating" Mr. Bush, but many openly detested him.
On the GOP convention floor, besides a lack of focus on Kerry, there seems little recognition of that Democratic critique.
Regarding one of the most popular insults of the president — that he is not smart enough — Anna Bartha, delegate of Colorado, says Mr. Bush has "certainly proven he's an incredibly intelligent man."
By Jarrett Murphy