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Kerry: Comment aimed at 'attack dogs'

Hastert takes 'great umbrage' at comment

House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert, second from right, says Kerry's comments angered him.

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CNN-USA's political team brings you updates and analysis all evening, following Thursday's efforts by the Kerry camp to consolidate support among Democrats on the Hill and President Bush's trip to New York for a September 11 memorial ceremony and fund raising.
Kerry ruffles GOP, invigorates Dems

GOP wants Kerry apology for 'crooked' jab
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said on Thursday that he was not referring to all Republicans as "crooked" in an off-the-cuff comment captured on camera -- just his political opponents' "attack dogs."

After a union rally in Chicago, Illinois, on Wednesday Kerry told a worker that "these guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen." His microphone was still on when he made the comments.

Kerry, who was on Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with Congressional Democrats, he told CNN, "I didn't say it about the Republicans, I said it about the attack dogs."

On Wednesday, a campaign aide had said that Kerry wasn't talking about President Bush.

Kerry has touted himself as a "fighter" who will stand up to GOP attacks. He told the worker, "Don't worry, man -- we are going to keep pounding, let me tell you."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said on Thursday that he took "great umbrage" at the comment.

"I am one of those Republicans in Illinois," he said. "If he wants to ascribe to me being crooked and a liar, I think he'll have his (comeuppance) coming." Hastert said Kerry's remarks were "the wrong way to step forward in this campaign."

Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot called Kerry's "crooked" comment "unbecoming of a candidate for the presidency of the United States."

"We call on Senator Kerry to apologize to the American people for this negative attack," Racicot said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

"On the day that Senator Kerry emerged as his party's presumptive nominee, the president called to congratulate him," Racicot said. "That goodwill gesture has been met by attacks and false statements."

In his speech Wednesday, Kerry told AFL-CIO leaders, who have endorsed him, that "this is the most important race of our generation."

"This is the most significant moment of crony government and crony capitalism that I've seen in my political life. And we've learned the truth of what George Bush thinks -- exporting our jobs is good economic policy. I believe that creating jobs here in America, keeping good jobs here and exporting goods, is good for our economy."

Kerry campaign official David Wade later told reporters that Kerry knew his microphone was on at the time he made the comment in question.

Wade said Kerry was not calling Bush crooked but was instead referring to Republicans who launched "crooked, deceitful, personal attacks over the last four years."

Among the examples Wade cited were comments made about former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia during his failed re-election campaign in 2002 and about Sen. John McCain of Arizona during his race against Bush in 2000 for the GOP nomination, as well as doctored photographs appearing to place Kerry alongside Jane Fonda during protests against the Vietnam War.

Blaming the incidents on a GOP attack "machine," Wade said, "We are going to make it very clear that [Kerry's] a Democrat who punches back."

But Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt, in a statement, chided Kerry for claiming "to be the victim of an imaginary smear machine."

"John Kerry has run a relentlessly negative campaign from the very beginning, and this comment is completely consistent with that," Schmidt said. "He has offered no plan or positive agenda for the country and has based his entire campaign on a series of false and inaccurate attacks." "We have seen that again today when he attacked tax relief for American workers. His campaign-trail promises mean he is going to raise taxes by at least $900 billion." (Full story)

Kerry has called for the repeal of some of Bush's tax cuts, which Republicans insist would amount to tax increases. However, Kerry has said he wants to retain the tax cuts geared to people in the middle class, whom he says face burdens from higher property taxes and rising costs for health care and education.

-- CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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