Jim Bourg  /  Reuters
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, responds Saturday to Republican attacks on his Senate voting record on defense and national security issues during a news conference in Atlanta.
updated 2/22/2004 10:51:43 AM ET 2004-02-22T15:51:43

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accused President Bush on Saturday of using surrogates to attack his military service in Vietnam and his subsequent activism against that war.

In a letter to Bush, Kerry wrote: “As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation’s history, and the struggle for our veterans continues. So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to reopen these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do.”

Kerry’s voting record in question
Kerry was reacting to criticism earlier in the day from a leading Georgia Republican who, speaking for Bush’s re-election campaign, predicted trouble for Kerry in the state’s primary.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss said during a conference call arranged by the Bush campaign that Kerry has a “32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems.”

When Kerry responded later, at his side was Max Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran who lost his Senate seat to Chambliss in 2002 after being portrayed as soft on homeland security.

He said the president “decided once again to take the low road of American politics.”

“Saxby Chambliss, on the part of the president and his henchmen, decided today to question my commitment to the defense of our nation,” Kerry said in Georgia, one of 10 states choosing electoral delegates on March 2.

Kerry said Bush used the same strategy to beat John McCain in the 2000 race for the Republican presidential nomination, and during the Chambliss-Cleland race.

In his letter to Bush, Kerry called Chambliss’ run against Cleland “one of the most despicable campaigns ever conducted.”

During the news conference, Kerry said he voted for the largest defense and intelligence budgets in American history, although sometimes he “voted for common sense to make changes.”

Kerry: Bush ignoring the issues
Bush, he said, was ignoring issues like jobs and health care to “engage in the politics of fear.”
Kerry has gotten the endorsement of John Lewis, a civil rights leader and Georgia’s longest-serving congressman. But Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., is backing Bush.

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Kerry also defended his military record during an interview taped Saturday for broadcast Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I don’t know what it is that all these Republicans who didn’t serve in Vietnam are fighting a war against those of us who did,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Kerry has campaigned on his Vietnam combat record, which includes three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.

Chambliss attacks record in Senate
Chambliss said Kerry, despite his service, has a weak record on military issues.

“He has a long history, particularly in the last decade, of not only voting to cut intelligence spending, but introducing bills to cut intelligence spending,” Chambliss said.

Cleland, a Democrat, had some criticism for Chambliss.

“For Saxby Chambliss, who got out of going to Vietnam because of a trick knee, to attack John Kerry as weak on the defense of our nation is like a mackerel in the moonlight that both shines and stinks,” he said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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