Kerry’s not just anybody, but -

I worried I wouldn’t really like Sen. John Kerry. That’s why I had to make it to Lawlor Events Center Friday for Kerry’s Reno visit.

Thousands obviously felt the same. The line to see almost-President John Kerry amazed me.

“I didn’t know so many people would show up,” said a man who drove from Quincy. “I thought it would just be him and me.”

Two hours before the senator spoke, the line wrapped around Lawlor, bending over and doubling back in friendly layers.

No loyalty oath required. Anyone who picked up tickets or printed tickets from the Kerry Web site was welcome. Greens, Independent Americans, Republicans, Democrats, on-the-fencers.

That alone—a commitment to the free flow of ideas—recommended Kerry over Bush.

But once again, it didn’t seem enough. I’ve never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate. I needed to like Kerry, to buy into his vision for our nation.

After finally making it into Lawlor, I heard a band playing that old Desert Storm anthem, “Proud to be an American.” My stomach lurched.

Kerry was introduced by James Rassman, the special forces guy rescued by Kerry under enemy fire in Vietnam. Rassman said he voted Republican for 34 years.

“The Republicans left me behind long ago,” Rassman said. He said the attitudes and values of the party no longer represented him. “I couldn’t stand what was happening to my country.”

To the strains of U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day,” Kerry took the stage. He held a baby. He rolled up his sleeves. He mentioned flying into Reno over snow-frosted Mount Rose and Slide Mountain.

“I’m in God’s country, and this is great,” he said.

He revved us up with a message of hope—a plan that we hear about only when it’s being attacked by the conservative media.

Kerry promised to get tough on the deficit and end the big-spending days of Bush. He said he plans to roll back tax cuts for those who can most afford it—people who make more than $200,000 a year. He’ll offer college tuition tax breaks, and he’ll restore funding for Head Start and Pell Grants. He’ll reinstate environmental protections jeopardized by BushCo’s pro-biz stance. He proposed incentives for businesses who keep jobs in the United States. He’ll protect Social Security for future generations.

And, yes, he can pay for this all—by ending federal freebies for large corporations.

Though he wouldn’t bring all of our troops home from Iraq the day after being sworn in, I have more faith in Kerry’s plan to restore order in Iraq than I do in the whims of a man who evaded serving his country.

I was impressed. Kerry’s plan is not “Bush-lite.” It’s not “the lesser of two evils.” It’s clearly a move in the right direction.

More than 5 million more Americans are without health care now than in 2000. Kerry plans to work to lower health insurance premiums by $1,000 per family. Many small businesses would get tax credits for offering insurance to employees. A ban on importing prescription drugs from Canada would be lifted, lowering the price of medications.

“Health care is killing everyone,” Kerry said, “and I don’t mean that as a pun.”

Kerry referenced gambling in Reno.

“I hear that the best bet is single-deck blackjack,” he said. “And the worst bet? Bush’s health care plan.”

As he spoke knowledgeably about Yucca Mountain, citing specifics on earthquake faults, dry cask storage and other problems with the transportation of high-level radioactive waste, I realized that I respected this guy.

When he pledged to take care of those “people struggling to make a living,” I felt his sincerity.

He’s a politician. He seems like a good human being.

My vote for Kerry won’t be a compromise.