Kerry shakes up his campaign team

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The Independent US

Trailing in the polls and facing criticism even among Democrats for his lacklustre performance, John Kerry began the final stage of the Presidential campaign yesterday with visits to three swing states, a new stump speech and a shake-up of his leading staffers.

Encouraged by many supporters ­ not least former president Bill Clinton ­ the Massachusetts senator will reportedly give important roles to architects of the Clinton victories in 1992 and 1996, among them strategist James Carville of Little Rock "war room" fame, and the pollster Stanley Greenberg. Mr Kerry is also bringing in John Sasso, a trusted friend from Massachusetts politics and manager of Michael Dukakis's losing 1988 White House bid, as his top travelling adviser.

Mr Kerry "told Sasso that he wants to put the choice this November before the American people in very clear, simple language, that he feels that hasn't been happening ... nearly as much as it needs to," an unnamed senior adviser to Mr Kerry told the Boston Globe.

Most Democrats feel the shake-up is long overdue. But there is a risk that two competing groups could form ­ one consisting of the team that guided him through the primaries, the other of the Clinton advisers who have been drafted in.

The changes came as two separate polls, in Time and Newsweek magazines, both gave George Bush an 11-point advantage on the Labour Day weekend, traditionally the kick-off for the home stretch before election day on 2 November.

The lead is the biggest established by either candidate this year, and suggests that the President achieved a real "bounce" from last week's Republican Convention.

Only once has an incumbent who has led at this stage lost the election. That lone exception was Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Mr Kerry spoke lengthily by phone over the weekend with Mr Clinton in New York where he was awaiting heart bypass surgery. Mr Clinton's main advice, it is understood, was for the Massachusetts senator to shift the argument from national security to domestic issues such as the economy and health care ­ highlighting how money spent in Iraq could have been better spent at home.

Even then, however, at a meeting in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, national security issues dominated. Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," Mr Kerry said. "I would not have done one thing differently, I would have done everything differently from the President on Iraq."

¿ The controversy over President Bush's links with the Saudi royal family is likely to be reignited after a new book claimed his administration engaged in a "cover-up" to protect its ally after the 11 September attacks. In Intelligence Matters, the Florida senator Bob Graham says President Bush "coddled" the Saudi authorities and pursued a war against Saddam Hussein that diverted resources from the hunt for al-Qa'ida.