By Chuck Raasch / Gannett News Service
BOSTON - As he steps into prime time tonight, John Kerry faces a daunting challenge: No sitting senator has been elected president since another man from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, won in 1960.
Kerry's leadership persona is fuzzier than the "compassionate conservative" label George W. Bush developed as Texas governor. Bush had a clear track record as a chief executive. Kerry has had to rebut what he says he isn't - a "flip-flopper" - as much as define the kind of leader he would be.
Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said the four-day convention this week has been the first opportunity to present "a fuller person" to Americans.
Longtime aides and friends say Kerry constantly challenges his own assumptions and asks others to do the same. Paradoxically, he has relied on a core of loyal confidants over many years, but his circle of advisers has also rapidly expanded in this campaign.
"He likes to prod and poke and hear different sides," said longtime friend David Thorne.
That style fits the Senate, where a single senator's filibuster can hold up the work of 99 others, but does not translate as well into the solitary leadership requirements of the presidency. It's one reason why four of the last five presidents have been governors.
"There really are different processes involved," said Charles O. Jones, who is studying leadership for the Brookings Institution. "And so it always is hard to evaluate a legislator as an executive."
Kerry said he can be quick and decisive when necessary.
"I think that in times of crisis, I know how to move and I know how to move fast, and I know how to move in the right direction," he said.
The Byzantine process of legislating is how Kerry could say he voted both for and against funding troops in Iraq and expect average people to understand. Republicans seized on that quote to paint Kerry as indecisive and pandering. In reality, Kerry favored a competing version of the measure but did not vote for the bill that passed. In employing Senate speak, he fell short on one important leadership requirement: communicating clearly.
Jones said Kerry showed one important leadership attribute when he fired his campaign manager last year.
"He decided, 'This is not going that well and I need a different team,' " Jones said. "He got it; he got better."
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