HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.—Senator John Kerry tonight sharply criticized Mitt Romney’s records as governor of Massachusetts, offering what is almost certainly a preview for the line of attack President Obama will deploy in the high-stakes presidential debate here.
Kerry, who has spent the past three days playing Romney in mock debates and preparing Obama for the face-off tonight, sought to poke holes in arguments Romney has made that he was a bipartisan bridge-builder who had a successful four-year term.
“I’ve spent months now studying Mitt Romney’s record,” Kerry said. “I know everything about him. More than I ever imagined or might have wanted to. And I will tell you, the numbers don’t add up, the record is not real. This is one of the great charades of all time in my judgment.”
“The most telling thing of all?” Kerry added. “He’s not even contesting the state that he governed. He’s 25 points behind in his own state, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the people of Massachusetts know him, they know what happened, and they don’t want any more of it. …Massachusetts is not there for Mitt Romney ‘cause they know what happened.”
Asked if this was a topic Obama was likely to bring up in the debate, Kerry demurred. “No, I’m talking. This is John Kerry talking. I’m just telling you that I know his record.”
Then, he asked, “Can I tell you something else about Mitt Romney and Massachusetts?”
“This guy loves elevators,” Kerry said. “He has an elevator in his home for his cars. And when he was in the State House he insisted on having his own elevator, parked a state police officer outside it, guarded the elevator for only for Mitt Romney, and put a velvet rope up outside his office.”
Asked if that was the substance Americans wanted to hear, Kerry said, “I think that’s very telling about the kind of governor who claims to have been bipartisan.”
“Romney claims he was bipartisan!” Kerry said. “Tonight, I’ll bet you’ll hear him stand up there and say, ‘Wow was I bipartisan in Massachusetts. I want to do for the country what I did in Massachusetts.’ Well, country, be warned. What he did in Massachusetts, according to the speaker, was give marching orders; according to the senate president, was be disengaged.”
When reporters pointed out Romney’s signature health care law, which has been highlighted as a major bipartisan achievement, Kerry gave more credit to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
“You know what? Yes it was,” Kerry said of bipartisanship playing a role in the law’s passage. “Because Teddy Kennedy had been working for 40 years of his life to get it done, and every legislator in Massachusetts wanted it done. So he did what the Democrats wanted, and now he’s running away from it nationally.”
“Folks, this is artistry,” Kerry said. “This is the most flim-flamest political artistry I’ve ever seen. You had your own program in Massachusetts, you run away from it. Now you’re going to repeal it nationally and you’re the guy who created it.”
Kerry also recounted meeting in 2006 in Medford with Mayor Mike McGlynn and “five or six other mayors.” They complained about local aid cuts, Kerry said, and teachers paying for materials with their own money.
“I said to them, ‘Hey guys, this is a state issue. When was the last time you talked to talked to the governor?’” Kerry said. “Five of the six mayors, at the end of Romney’s four years said to me, ‘Senator we’ve never met the governor.’”
Kerry also criticized Republicans for making an issue out of the Obama administration’s response to the Libyan crisis, where four Americans were killed at the US consulate in Benghazi.
“You bond together as a country and you don’t make it a political football,” Kerry said. “I don’t remember a political football when 3,000 people died about 40 miles away from here and you had 9/11. There was no political football. We came together as a country. and I think it’s disgraceful to be trying to make this a political issue.”
“I think people need to gather their wits about them and act in a mature and thoughtful way about this,” he added. “The president called it an act of terror immediately, everybody understands what happened, there’s no secret here. But we have bigger issues to talk about.”
As a crowd initially began forming around Kerry, one of his rivals for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, Howard Dean, approached and shook hands with Kerry.
“Hey, hey,” Kerry said. “Good to see you, Howard. How are ya man? Happy to catch up to you. You’re losing weight. What are you doing?”
“I just lost a little weight, that’s all,” Dean replied.
“Scary,” Kerry said. “Be careful.”
“We’re going to kick some butt, huh?” Dean responded.
“Your words,” Kerry said.
“Yeah, right,” Dean responded. “See ya. Good to see ya.”Matt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @mviser .