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Inside Politics

Delegates mock Kerry with 'purple heart' bandages

Democrats: GOP 'mocking our troops'

CNN's Dan Lothian holds one of the "purple heart" bandages.
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Delegates to the Republican National Convention found a new way to take a jab at Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam service record: by sporting adhesive bandages with small purple hearts on them.

Morton Blackwell, a prominent Virginia delegate, has been handing out the heart-covered bandages to delegates, who've worn them on their chins, cheeks, the backs of their hands and other places.

Blackwell is president of the Leadership Institute, an educational foundation he founded in 1979. According to its Web site, the institute prepares conservatives for success in politics, government and the news media.

Kerry was a decorated Navy officer in Vietnam who became a prominent antiwar activist upon his return home. A group calling itself "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" has accused Kerry of lying to win combat decorations in Vietnam, including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

And last week, former Sen. Bob Dole, the party's 1996 presidential nominee, brought more attention to the allegations when he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "With three Purple Hearts, he never bled that I know of. And they're all superficial wounds."

Dole apologized for the remark the next day after a personal call from Kerry, saying that before taping the interview, "maybe I should have stayed longer for brunch somewhere."

Donna Cain, an Oregon delegate, wore a purple heart bandage on her wrist.

"Probably a lot of people are handing them out because they are very symbolic," she said. Kerry, she said, "has made the war that he served in far more important than his recent records of the last 18 to 20 years."

Kerry's campaign has denounced the allegations as a smear.

Other veterans and military records from the time have contradicted the swift boat group's allegations.

Kerry's campaign quickly responded to the purple heart bandages, saying the Republicans are "mocking our troops."

"The smear continues on the floor of Madison Square Garden," a Kerry campaign statement trumpeted.

But Cain said she didn't see the bandage as a jab at U.S. troops who have been wounded in combat -- more than 6,000 of them so far in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"It is not in any way defaming of them, because I know people who have received Purple Hearts and I know that they're not boasting about their war record. They're proud of their serving their country. And, I mean, I just met a woman who lost her husband yesterday in Iraq. And there's a whole entirely different mood."

Pat Peel, the delegate singled out in the Democratic response, promised that there would be many more purple heart bandages on the floor Tuesday.

Dole was sharply criticized by Kerry backers when he questioned whether Kerry's wounds were severe enough to merit a Purple Heart. He said Monday night that "you can't control delegates."

"I'm certain there's no possible connection" between the Bush campaign or Republican leaders and the bandages sported Monday night, he said.

"The last thing President Bush or anybody in the campaign wants to do is stir this up."

The military makes no distinction about the severity of a wound when setting the standards for a Purple Heart.

Although he was grievously wounded in a later battle, Dole wrote in a 1988 biography that the first of his two Purple Hearts was the kind of wound the Army treated "with Mercurochrome and a Purple Heart."

Kerry has called on President Bush to denounce the swift boat veterans' ads. Bush has responded by calling for an end to all attack ads by independent groups but has not specifically criticized the anti-Kerry commercials.

Kerry accuses the group -- funded largely by Republican donors from Bush's home state of Texas -- of being a front group for the president's re-election campaign.

Republicans say Bush has been unfairly attacked by Kerry allies who have questioned whether Bush completed his Vietnam-era service in the Air National Guard. Kerry's spokesmen say their candidate has disavowed those ads.

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