Two more staff quit Kerry's campaign

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The Independent US

John Kerry's flagging presidential campaign has been dealt a further blow with the departure of two more senior staffers. They left in protest at the dismissal of his campaign manager earlier in the week.

Jim Jordan, the departing campaign chief, is being replaced by Mary Beth Cahill, chief of staff to Mr Kerry's fellow Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy. The move is seen as an effort to shift the centre of gravity of the Kerry operation from Washington to his native city of Boston.

But critics say the replacement was clumsily executed and within 24 hours Mr Kerry had lost his campaign spokesman and his deputy finance director, with other defections possible.

Only six months ago Mr Kerry, with his broad senate experience, statesmanlike bearing and hero's record in the Vietnam War, was regarded as the front-runner for the nomination. He has now slipped to the middle of the pack of Democratic challengers. Howard Dean, once a distant outsider, has moved to the head of the field and taken a commanding lead in New Hampshire, whose primary on 27 January is considered a must-win contest for Mr Kerry. Mr Dean scored another coup yesterday by securing the endorsement of two leading service unions, demonstrating his appeal to a key Democratic constituency.

Mr Kerry has failed to convey a clear message and has never succeeded in explaining why, as a critic of the war in Iraq now, he voted last October for the congressional resolution that gave President Bush a virtual carte blanche to invade.

Mr Kerry has become the first Democrat to run television ads showing Mr Bush in his pilot suit after landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln last May, beneath a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished". The advert aims to highlight the difference between Mr Kerry, an authentic war hero, and Mr Bush, the dressed-up warrior. The White House had been expected to use the pictures in its 2004 campaign. Instead, as casualties in Iraq mount, they have turned into a weapon for the Democrats.