HMS' Vanessa Kerry Campaigns on Campus

Vanessa Kerry, the youngest daughter of Sen. John F. Kerry, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, last night decried the Bush administration’s handling of the presidency and told students that her father was the right man to bring “opportunity” back to the country.

Kerry, a 27-year-old student at Harvard Medical School, is splitting her time this year between completing her degree and working for her father’s campaign. She said this is her first time working on any political campaign, and that her role focuses on outreach to college students.

“More college students voted in 1992 than since when John Kennedy was president,” Kerry said in an hour-long session in the Adams House Upper Common Room. “We can do that again now—and we need to.”

The Yale College graduate said the decision to help her father’s campaign didn’t come easily.

“I knew I had to feel really strongly about what he was talking about,” said Kerry.

She spent about half the event talking about her father’s platform and record, and the remainder fielding questions from the audience.

She talked about her father’s stances on a range of issues, including universal health care, tax-cut rollbacks, national security and civil liberties, but she focused on the matters about which she said she was most passionate: combating AIDS worldwide and preserving the environment.

Time spent in west Africa, Kerry said, impressed upon her the urgency of fighting AIDS.

Kerry said AIDS casualties will not peak until 2030 and that “we need to be investing in education worldwide” to help people stem the disease’s spread.

Kerry also emphasized her father’s commitment to preserving the environment, citing his opposition to drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition, she reiterated her father’s opposition to a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban gay marriage, saying that her father is “committed to civil rights for all Americans.”

Earlier this week, President Bush announced his support for the proposed amendment, which is pending in Congress.

After an audience member asked why her father supported full civil unions—but not marriage—for homosexuals, Kerry replied, “For my dad, it’s an issue of semantics,” adding that the candidate’s Catholic faith prevents him from supporting gay marriage.

Despite noting the many differences between Kerry’s and Bush’s platforms, she stated explicitly that winning the Democratic nomination was the campaign’s immediate concern—especially with “Super Tuesday” next week deciding the votes of more than 1,150 delegates. A candidate needs 2,162 delegates to win the nomination.

“To be truly honest, we don’t have the nomination locked up yet,” she said.

And while Kerry was still reluctant to refer to her father as “the nominee,” she didn’t hesitate to criticize the Bush administration’s handling of many areas, particularly Iraq.