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Kerry, the Big Cheese in France

It's contagious! John Kerry fever has spread to Democrats living overseas. In the past few days, overflow crowds have turned up for straw-poll caucuses held by local chapters of Democrats Abroad in several European capitals, and the Massachusetts senator has emerged a clear winner.

In France, organizers had to scurry to photocopy extra ballots when nearly 800 people -- three times the expected number -- showed up for a recent caucus in Paris. Kerry won with 58%, while Wesley Clark and Howard Dean evenly split the remaining 42%. A few days later in London, Kerry won again, with close to 60% of the vote, at a caucus that drew more than 600 people -- also an unexpectedly large turnout.

Results from some other European caucuses are still being tallied, says Sharon Manitta, a London-based spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad. But, she says, with more than 20 caucuses throughout Europe already held, "It's clear that Senator Kerry did very well."

ANTI-BUSH. What's fueling Kerry's European groundswell is the perception that he has become unstoppable. "Kerry had no support here whatsoever until about three weeks ago," says Connie Borde, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad's French chapter. "But now people see that a vote for Kerry is, as the French would say, utile" -- that is, it won't be wasted.

Delegates elected at overseas caucuses will attend an international caucus in Edinburgh in March, at which 22 Democratic National Convention delegates will be chosen to represent Democrats abroad.

What's striking about the overseas contests so far is the unusually high turnouts on the Continent, compared with other locales that have substantial American expatriate populations, such as Canada, Japan, and Hong Kong. Party leaders say the trend reflects President George W. Bush's extreme unpopularity with Europeans on issues ranging from the Iraq war to environmental protection. That sentiment seems to be rubbing off on expatriate Americans locally -- especially in recent months as transatlantic tensions have run especially high.

"People here aren't anti-American," Borde says. "They just don't like George Bush." John Kerry, s'il vous plait.

Carol Matlack in Paris

Bumper-Sticker Strategies

For the next nine months, American voters will be deluged with political blather in the run-up to the Presidential election. But each party will really be trying to tell only one simple story -- their campaign slogan condensed to the bumper sticker, if you will.

The Democrats will try to convince you that George Bush is just another lying politician, rather than the likeable, decisive leader that many Americans seem to think. That's why the Democrats are making so much about Bush's National Guard record. They want to paint him as rich kid who used political connections to dodge the draft -- and has covered it up for 30 years.

Assuming John Kerry is the Democratic nominee, the GOP campaign will boil down to one simple story line as well: Hey, John, you're a Massachusetts liberal. Kerry's policy positions will be cast as to the left of his Bay State colleague, Ted Kennedy -- so far left, in fact, that he couldn't get anything done in his three terms in the Senate. Kerry will be portrayed as a tall Michael Dukakis, with whispers that he marched with Jane Fonda in the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. The message: Kerry is out of touch on mainstream American values, and his mushy internationalist foreign policy leaves you more vulnerable to terrorists.

Normally, this sort of nasty negative campaigning has a big downside, but both parties hope the trash talking will fire up their base and tilt just enough swing voters to make a difference. And with the nominating conventions this summer, they'll combine these attacks with policy platforms designed to win a plurality of votes in November.

Howard Gleckman in Washington

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