A Kerry (Vanessa) stumps the Valley

Story by Chris Graham

The presidential campaign trail is a long, winding, unforgiving road.

Indeed, if it weren’t for the letters DQ, Vanessa Kerry might have a hard time staying in between the white lines.

“When I think of the words campaign trail, my mind immediately goes to little sleep, lots of coffee and cravings for Dairy Queen,” said Kerry, the 27-year-old daughter of Democratic Party presidential nominee John Kerry, during a campaign visit to James Madison University in Harrisonburg Thursday afternoon.

It was the fourth Virginia college campus that she’d seen in two days – on Wednesday, Kerry and her older sister, Alexandra, along with their stepbrother Andre Heinz and Cate Edwards, the daughter of Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, held forums at Norfolk State University and Virginia Commonwealth University, with Vanessa staying in the Old Dominion for stops at JMU and the University of Virginia earlier on Thursday.

The third-year Harvard Medical School student took a leave of absence from her studies earlier this year so that she could help her father’s campaign.

“I had no idea what to expect,” she told The Augusta Free Press after holding an hour-long town-hall meeting that drew an overflow crowd to JMU’s Taylor Hall.

“There are moments when I’m exhausted, and there are moments when I’m just floored and stunned and amazed and awed. And there are moments when I’m just so excited. But I think the overriding thing is that I feel that this is just an amazing experience, to get to be a part of history, regardless of the outcome. I just feel very, very lucky. This is just one of the most incredible experiences in my life,” Kerry said.

Kerry focused the attention at the outset of the town-hall meeting on discussing the rising cost of higher education and the uncertainties of the stagnating economy and job market. It didn’t take too long into the question-and-answer session that filled most of the hour for the issue of the negative campaigning that her father has had to endure on matters from those relating to his military service to his U.S. Senate voting record to come up – and Kerry met it head on.

“I was listening to NPR this morning as I was running, and I had to turn the volume down, because Zell Miller was absolutely screaming. And then I had to stop to keep from crying, to be honest. Because I’m just blown away that this is what they’re resorting to,” Kerry said.

“You know, I thought I was going to have a thick skin, and I thought I was going to be fine, but I do take this personally, because it is so insulting to all of us on the whole,” Kerry said. “You have moments where you just … I say, why are we doing this? And then I have moments where I have a chance to hear someone’s story. I have moments where I get the chance to think about what I care about, global health and health care in this country, and I realize how important this election is, and how much is at stake, and it makes me that much more determined.

“If I can do anything to help this process, I will,” Kerry said. “Because this country deserves better. We deserve the truth, we deserve a conversation, and we deserve to get away from the dirty politics that are turning young people off.”

The way to engage voters of any age is to talk issues, Kerry said.

“I think people in this area should vote for my dad because he’s going to fight to create 10 million new jobs that are better paying,” she told reporters after the student forum.

“He’s going to fight to make health care more affordable, reduce premiums by $1,000 and make sure that all children are covered immediately. And frankly, he’s going to focus on the economy,” Kerry said. “He has a history of voting for fiscal responsibility because he believes in not opening our deficit out way beyond where it is already so that our children are going to have to pick up that tab at a later date. And I think he’s talking about American values and respecting this country and giving every American an opportunity.”

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