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Monday, October 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Kerry campaign courts military-family voters
By Warren Cornwall
Lietta Ruger, mother-in-law and aunt to soldiers sent to Iraq, has spent months speaking out against the war.
Last night was the first time she publicly spoke out for Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.
Ruger and her husband drove from southwestern Washington yesterday to meet in a Kent living room with several women touring the country for the Democrat's campaign in a bid to show that military families are unhappy with President Bush's handling of the war.
"I think the only opportunity this country has is for a change in commander-in-chief," Ruger said to the roughly dozen people who gathered over coffee and chocolate-chip cookies.
The low-key event was part of a broader strategy by the Kerry campaign to court military families, traditionally a Republican stronghold. The Kerry campaign organized the meeting and brought in three women from Military Moms with a Mission, a group of roughly 15 women who are on a nationwide tour to stump for Kerry during the waning days of the campaign. They are to meet with people in Spokane today.
"I think the military vote is totally up for grabs," said Lisa Leitz, a member of Military Moms whose husband is in the Navy in Florida, training to be a naval aviator.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance, however, dismissed that idea.
"To the president's great credit, our heroes in the military support him," he said. "They [the Military Moms] want to falsely portray that Sen. Kerry has some significant support in the military, and that's simply not true."
Ruger, who grew up in a military family, has been active with a national anti-war group called Military Families Speak Out. She said she opposed the invasion of Iraq from the outset, feeling it had no relationship to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that put the nation on a war footing. In late 2003, she turned to Internet chat rooms in search of support and a community.
There she found the military families group and began speaking out against the war, breaking what she described as a taboo among military families against criticizing the president. But she didn't decide to publicly back Kerry until a recent meeting between several Washington military families and members of the Kerry campaign, including Wade Sanders, an undersecretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration.
The restriction on criticizing the president wasn't apparent in Stacy Bannerman's living room yesterday.
The people there, nearly all of them women, spoke of relatives in the military going without proper supplies, of constant anxiety that the latest combat casualties would include a loved one, and of frustration with a war with no apparent end in sight.
Several praised 18 soldiers who reportedly refused orders to take part in a recent convoy amid concerns that they didn't have adequate security or equipment.
Bannerman is a member of Military Families Speak Out. Her husband, Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Lorin Bannerman, is serving at Logistical Support Area Anaconda. The massive supply base northwest of Baghdad is frequently the target of mortar shelling by insurgents, and is run by Washington state's 81st Brigade Combat Team, an Army National Guard unit.
Officials there recently said they have requested more soldiers to quell the mortar attacks, but they have been turned down, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun.
"They're operating under surreal shortages," Bannerman said. She said her husband's service in the National Guard was supposed to end in June, but he now is being required to stay until April.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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