AS THE Swift vets furor rages, even some fellow Democrats are lamenting that Sen. John Kerry's campaign war room looks pretty inept for escalating and prolonging it.
"If they think this is a winner right now, they're smoking something. It's time to take your lumps and move on. They've got to get back on their game and talk about jobs and health care," says a longtime Democratic strategist.
But like a senator scoring points in a debate, Kerry seems determined to try to have the last word, and right now, his team is crowing that it has successfully spun the story to blame the anti-Kerry ads as a sneaky Bush tactic.
Republicans say they couldn't care less — the media may be focused on that, but what real people see is that a shockingly large number of men who served with Kerry in Vietnam think he's unfit to be president. After all, 264 oppose him and just a few dozen back him.
The flap may be taking a toll — a Los Angeles Times national poll last night had Bush ahead of Kerry, 49 to 46 percent, a switch from last month, when Kerry led by 2 points.
Kerry's rating dropped on his Vietnam service, leadership, honesty and fitness to be commander-in-chief.
More ominously, by prolonging the Swift Vets issue, Kerry has let it turn to the anti-war past that he's been trying to airbrush out of his bio.
Now the focus is moving to how he smeared fellow Vietnam vets as war criminals.