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THE WRONG CANDIDATE WITH THE WRONG MESSAGE

The result was almost foreordained.

As many feared, the great election did not turn on President George W. Bush's carelessness and his misstatements. In the last days, as in the beginning, it pivoted on Sen. John F. Kerry.

The predicted turnout reflected enough potential anger over the messes Bush created to evict a president even in wartime. But there wasn't enough anger to warrant replacing Bush with a mediocrity.

The junior Democratic senator from Massachusetts entered the fray as an unsettling mystery and he left the same way. The more you looked the less you saw.

Pour a little water on him and he melted, leaving only a $2,000 hunting jacket and a haircut costing almost as much to remember him by.

Kerry had the wrong background, and the wrong message in the wrong year. No Democratic nominee in 80 years brought fewer accomplishments or more scrambled thinking to the battle than Kerry. He had no useful legislative record as a senator; he had never led a floor fight. He was tied to no causes other than his own.

Kerry's work product as a junior prosecutor was undistinguished and his Vietnam days were brief and controversial. With such an opaque public record, a closer look at his personal history beckoned.

After four elections to the Senate from Irish Boston, it took a miniprobe by a journalist to show Kerry was not really Irish-American.

The circumstances of his first marriage and divorce were not made public until this year, and just where and when he received a Catholic annulment from this marriage is still unclear.

Many churchgoing Catholics were willing to let Kerry carve out his own niche in the church until he declared in the third debate that he was an "altar boy." That remark unleashed a traditionalist torrent on the Internet about his taking communion at a Protestant church and supporting late-term abortions, same-sex unions and unlimited use of spare embryos for stem cell research.

The hints Kerry gave as to his executive abilities were disturbing. The senator chose Bob Shrum as his political adviser, a notorious loser. Shrum helped lead Al Gore to defeat four years ago.

Kerry kept close the manipulative and deceitful chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe. Kerry should have dumped McAuliffe as soon as the primaries assured the nomination.

It was McAuliffe who in September 2002 got the Democratic congressional leaders to give Bush an early blank check to invade Iraq. This precluded any serious floor debate on a move that was polarizing the nation. How could Kerry have strong convictions on the Iraq war if he kept such a man around?

But Kerry's worst executive decision was his early choice of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to be his running mate. With a New England-style voting record, Edwards was not likely to carry his home state. And he didn't.

Kerry instead should have gone on his knees to get moderate Sen. Bob Graham on the ticket. Graham carried Florida, crucial to the electoral count, five times -- twice as governor and three times as senator. A lifelong Southerner, Graham also had gravitas without the Dick Cheney grimace.

The powerful emotions of the campaign are still obscuring the simple fact that little can be learned about the direction of American political life when such a weak candidate was matched against a well-managed incumbent in wartime.

Students should now turn their eyes toward the deep corruption in this city that delivered such a flawed Democrat to the campaign.

All we got this year was another affirmation that this is a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com