LANCASTER, PADemocratic frontrunner Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) began a seven-day, eight-state whistle-stop tour Monday, addressing a group of Frigidaire factory workers from the all-teak deck of his 60-foot luxury motor cruiser.
"George W. Bush put tax cuts for the wealthy and special favors for the special interests before our economic future," Kerry told the crowd gathered below the starboard side of The Real Deal II. "I will fight to restore the three million jobs that have been lost on the president's watch. It's time America got back to work."
Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said Kerry's whistle-stop tour is scheduled to take him through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and on to six Midwestern states at an average speed of 26 knots.
Apart from a brief detour into Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago, the yacht will travel exclusively on land, attached to a drydock-mounting slip atop a highway-legal flatbed trailer.
Kerry's stump speech, which he delivered through the yacht's PA system, ignored his Democratic rivals and focused instead on the current administration's economic record.
"Bush has the worst jobs record of the last 11 presidents," said Kerry, his hand draped over the flagpole halyard. "Landing on an aircraft carrier doesn't make up for failed economic policy. The American people need jobs to buy food for their families, to secure health insurance for their children, and to pay the mortgages on their houses."
"Unlike the Republicans, I know it's you, the American worker, that keeps this country running," said Kerry, who then tipped his captain's hat to the crowd.
Federal Election Commission records show that Kerry purchased The Real Deal II in December 2003 for $2.5 million. The Kerry campaign's 2003 fourth-quarter filings show that the yacht required $200,000 of work to prepare it for the Midwest campaign voyage. Repairs included a tune-up of the vessel's twin diesel engine, the installation of a Navman color GPS-plotting navigation system, and the addition of red, white, and blue detailing to the yacht's leather interior.
"John Kerry wanted to get out there, connect with the people, and hear their stories," Cahill said in a press conference held in the main cabin. "Taking his yacht across the Midwest is the best way for Kerry to reach out to all the people who lost their jobs under George W. Bush."
"There's no better place to have a good conversation than on the deck of a fine sailing vessel, out there in the sunshine, with the gentle breeze playing in your hair," Cahill said. "It's beautiful up there."
Cahill said she hopes the yacht will appeal to independent voters, who may decide the election in November.
An additional benefit of campaigning in the craft is that it affords Kerry the opportunity to make unexpected stops along the campaign trail, simply by alerting the convoy with his International Maritime Signal Flags.
"What's John Kerry all about?" said Kerry, addressing a small group of supporters that he spotted at a rest stop on Interstate 76. "John Kerry believes in affordable health care, renewable energy, decisive foreign policy, and economic recovery. I'm putting that message on my yacht and taking it all the way across America."
Kerry continued: "We're going to sail The Real Deal II right up onto the White House lawn and tell them, 'The American people have arrived to take back their government.'"
U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), a Kerry supporter who has been traveling on-and-off with the candidate since January, said that the whistle-stop tour demonstrates Kerry's commitment to the country.
"People tried to write this campaign off last year, but he kept going full steam ahead, because he cares about the proud men and women of this nation," Kennedy said. "He's going to go all the way in November, like the little yacht that could."