Bush, Kerry Indirectly Trade Light Barbs

Associated Press

BOSTON - President Bush and Sen. John Kerry engaged in some lighthearted, long-distance one-upmanship Sunday, exhorting a Roman Catholic priest to save the souls of Republicans and Democrats alike.

"I presume he's got quite a few souls to save in that crowd," the Republican president joked.

"Father, I got a few Republican ones I want to add to the list if I can," quipped his Democratic rival.

It was part of a kind of political call-in show as Bush and Kerry, in separate telephone calls, gave their greetings to the annual St. Patrick's day breakfast.

The event is the more than half-century old precursor to the annual South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade, which draws hundreds of thousands. The gathering is attended by top politicians in the city and the state, most of whom are Democrats.

Bush placed his call from the White House. Kerry checked in from his skiing vacation in Idaho.

Kerry drew a big round of applause when he identified himself by saying, "This is the next president of the United States."

Both Bush and Kerry, already in the full-tilt campaigning against each other, had some fun at the expense of Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.

"Here's the way I like to put it about Massachusetts," Bush said. "I know there's a lot of talk about a Massachusetts politician who has his eye on the presidency, but tell Mitt it's not open till 2008."

When the master of ceremonies, Democratic state Sen. Jack Hart of Boston, asked the president if he was referring to Kerry, Bush sidestepped saying, "You mean the, uh, well, never mind."

Hart provoked a chuckle from Bush when he asked, "Do you need a running mate? We like Dick Cheney and all, but we'd like you to take the governor to Washington."

Bush came back, "Look, you're lucky to have the guy."

Kerry, noting that the Democratic convention is headed to Boston this summer, addressed Romney directly, saying, "Hey, Mitt, by the way, I understand you're interested in our convention and I just wanted to give you a heads up. We do not want you to steer the concessions contract to Halliburton."

Then to Democratic Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Kerry said, "Mr. Mayor, just say no, we refuse to pay $163 for a bag of popcorn."

The Pentagon is withholding about $300 million in payments to Vice President Cheney's former company because of because of possible overcharging for meals served to troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

Kerry also joked about how badly he seemed to be doing late last year.

"At one point in December, I'm not sure even Pete Rose would have bet on me," he said.

"I woke up in Iowa and my staff walked in and they said it was down to five the night before and I thought they meant the temperature and it turns out it was my poll numbers," Kerry said.

He also poked fun at himself over the controversy over his talks with other leaders.

"I'm feeling very confident about my ability to win. I've been told by a lot of foreign leprechauns they want me to win."

"Can you name them?" asked Hart.

"Not on your life," Kerry replied.