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KERRY PLANS "DECEMBER SURPRISE'

Too little, too late, Democrats fear Amid fears that he is trailing further behind President George W. Bush in the polls, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is planning a "December Surprise" to win the election, aides confirmed today.

Kerry staffers, aware that their candidate has been criticized for being too cautious in his campaign, believe that word of Kerry's "December Surprise" will do much to alter that perception.

"Those who think that John Kerry isn't capable of taking bold action are going to be very, very surprised come December," one aide said.

But even as rumors of Kerry's "December Surprise" spread through Democratic circles, some Democrats expressed fears that Kerry's new strategy, while a positive sign for the campaign, might be too little, too late.

"I find it particularly troubling that John Kerry is planning a surprise, whatever it is, for after the election has already taken place," said Milton Crowe, a longtime Democratic Party activist in Pittsburgh. "Call me old-fashioned, but the time for this sort of thing is October."

Not so, said the Kerry aide: "An October surprise is exactly what the Republicans are expecting us to do," adding, "Trust us, we know what we're doing."

In a sign that the campaign may be beginning to rebound, the aide pointed to a new poll showing that a majority of Americans would rather vote for Kerry than be poked in the eye with a sharp stick.

Elsewhere, the Bush campaign attempted to put to rest charges about the president's National Guard Service by releasing a photo of a former Alabama Guardsman correctly picking Bush out of a police lineup.

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