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Kerry under fire

From NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and Huma Zaidi
White House press secretary Tony Snow and Sen. John Kerry (D) are engaged in a war of words over comments Kerry made at a campaign event in Los Angeles yesterday for California gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides.  Both might have a little base-politicking in mind, Snow for 2006 and Kerry for 2008.

Kerry, who was speaking to a group of students, warned them that those who don't study hard or do well in school could "get stuck in Iraq."  At today's White House press briefing, Snow said Kerry should apologize to US troops and their families for insinuating that those who serve in the military are not smart.  "What Senator Kerry ought to do first is apologize to the troops," Snow said.  "This is an absolute insult.  And I'm a little astonished that he didn't figure it out already."  Snow was clearly prepped and probably looking to fire up the Republican faithful with attacks on Kerry, one of their favorite punching bags.

Kerry, who has been appealing more and more to the Democratic left as he plots a second run for president, quickly fired back at Snow with an unusually strong-worded press release arguing that President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be the ones to apologize to the troops.  "If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy," Kerry said.  "I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq."

A source close to Kerry tells NBC News that he was trying to make a "tough and honest joke" about Bush and that in the process he omitted two words which changed the intended meaning. Per the source, Kerry meant to say that he can't "overstress the importance of a great education" and that "if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy... You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq." Kerry mistakenly dropped the "getting us" from his initial remarks.

Sen. John McCain, with 2008 aspirations of his own, is also calling on Kerry to apologize. In a statement released today, McCain said that Kerry's remark is "an insult to every soldier serving in combat, and should deeply offend any American with an ounce of appreciation for what they suffer and risk so that the rest of us can sleep more comfortably at night."

Kerry will hold a press conference to respond to Snow and McCain at 2:00 pm today.

What do you think?  Should Kerry apologize or is this purely an election ruse?  Join in the discussion on the MSNBC.com discussion board.