Seven Democratic presidential candidates are at Drake University this afternoon for a health care forum sponsored by Governor Vilsack. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the first to speak, chose to start by focusing on a different topic. Kerry says he learned on the way over to the forum of a Pentagon plan to cut the monthly hazard pay for the 148,000 American troops serving in Iraq. Many in the crowd gasped when Kerry told them of the plan. Kerry says Pentagon officials say the government can’t afford to give the soldiers $75 a month in “imminent danger” pay and $150-a-month in “family separation” pay. Kerry says President Bush should make it clear — by the end of the day — that the soldiers will get their pay. Kerry says Bush should apologize to the troops and their families and make clear that’s not how they’re regarded by their country as they stand in 120-degree heat in Iraq, facing hostile fire from all sides. Tonight, one of the candidates will try to strike a chord with supporters by playing his guitar at a Des Moines bar. Candidate Howard Dean will play guitar and harmonica with blues artist Michael “Hawkeye” Herman. Dean says he taught himself how to play the guitar when he was 15. Dean says he’s “not that good” and will be performing on “sheer nerve.” Dean says he’s not accomplished enough to have a stage persona. Dean says he’s only played once in his life, when he was sober. The event’s not open to the public. Dean’s campaign has reserved the bar for the gig.
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