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ON THE STUMP

Kerry says US has lost its 'moral authority'

Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, telling a hometown crowd of 1,200 last night that his "fighting mood" would drive him to victory in November, extended his criticism of President Bush's handling of Iraq to say that America had lost its "moral authority" as a global peacekeeper, and singled out the "genocide" in Darfur as a crisis where the United States had been unable to help.

Kerry told his Boston Convention Center audience, gathered for a $2.5 million fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee, that Bush had made "a mess" out of a range of issues, including health care, school management, and "America's ability to lead the world, as we ought to be in a place like Darfur, in Sudan -- where genocide is taking place, but we're not able to move because we're bogged down as we are in Iraq and we've lost our moral authority."

Previously Kerry has urged the Bush administration to declare a genocide in the war-torn Darfur region, where Arab militias have been killing villagers and displacing 1 million of them; he has not made the link to Iraq as explicitly before. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said that the deaths in Darfur were genocide.

Kerry, in unusually strong terms, also blamed Bush for US military casualties in Iraq, which exceeded 1,000 this month.

"Our young men and women are at greater risk today and dying because this president didn't have the patience to lead in the way that he should have," Kerry said.

After a rousing introduction by Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral and a warm tribute from his wife, Teresa, Kerry paid a dozen thank-you's to supporters and touched on some policy, then whipped up the crowd about halfway into his 25-minute remarks by promising to be the same strong closer this fall as he was in earlier races, such as his squeaker of a reelection fight against Governor William F. Weld in 1996.

"Now let me tell you something -- these folks have got me in a fighting mood -- and when I get in a fighting mood, you know what happens here in Massachusetts," Kerry said as the crowd rose to its feet and burst into the loudest roar of the night. "I feel those October juices flowing, and I've been at this for a while; when those juices get flowing, I feel good."

Earlier yesterday, Kerry and his wife went to the Four Seasons Hotel to tape a 30-minute segment for the "Dr. Phil" television talk show hosted by Dr. Phil McGraw, who was joined by his wife, Robin. "It was fun to be with a prominent Texan who tells the truth," Kerry said of McGraw. The episode will air Oct. 6, one week before the Bushes appear. Kerry will spend today at his Beacon Hill home preparing for his first debate with Bush, which is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30, although the Bush and Kerry camps are still negotiating the number and format of debates.

Patrick Healy can be reached at phealy@globe.com.

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