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There still were plenty of problems. The campaign had no money. "There was a day in December when we received not one contribution, not a penny," says Cahill. "I felt so bad that I wrote out a check for $2,000 and rushed it downstairs so we wouldn't have a completely dry day." Kerry had to make one last big decision--whether to take out a $6.4 million loan on his Boston home, which represented most of his personal fortune, to finance the campaign. His wife may be heir to the Heinz-family fortune, but campaign-finance laws prevent her giving to his campaign more than a $2,000 donation. By law, Kerry could lend himself only his, rather small, share of their joint assets. If he lost and couldn't repay the loan on his home, he would be far more dependent on Teresa's fortune; his daughters might receive no significant inheritance from him. Several advisers suggested that he might even have to leave the Senate to make enough money to avoid foreclosure. Since then, Kerry's fund raising has been so successful that he was able to announce last week that he would use campaign money to repay the debt. But David Wade remembers driving along one night in Iowa, listening to one of Kerry's oldest financial supporters trying to persuade the candidate not to take out the loan. Even with the money, the supporter argued, Kerry's prospects in Iowa were dim. But without it, Kerry pushed back, there was no chance that he could overtake Dean. "You see," Kerry told me last week, with killer cool and without a flicker of irony, "I always believed I was going to win, so there really wasn't much choice but to do it."
In time, Kerry even came up with an answer on the war. He stopped being defensive. He described how he would have gone about it--waiting for the U.N. inspectors to do their work, patiently putting together a real coalition if war was necessary. And then, defiantly, he said, "If you don't believe I would have gone about it that way, then don't vote for me."
It is a surpassing American oddity that a proper Bostonian who seems so profoundly uncomfortable with the rude ceremonies of the public square can transform himself into a sleek political warrior, eager for the havoc of pitched battle. But I wonder how many of these visits to the phone booth are matters of desperation and how many are matters of strategy.
Kerry seemed to stand down after he marched through the primaries. To the consternation of many Democrats, he played rope-a-dope as the Bush campaign spent more than $80 million on mostly negative ads against him. Kerry muted his attacks on Bush during the Abu Ghraib prison-abuse scandal and the Marines' embarrassing retreat from Fallujah. I suspect these moves were intentional--part of the newly confident Kerry's grand design for the campaign: to lie low until July, when he announced his running mate in exactly the manner that he intended, and then to make the grand step onto center stage when he accepts his party's nomination in Boston. Still, Kerry is about to enter far more difficult political terrain than he has ever encountered before, and one wonders if there are more near death experiences to come.