Kerry Campaign Swings Through Florida
Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images
Kerry makes a Monday stop in Hollywood, Florida. news services
updated 3/8/2004 6:10:45 PM ET 2004-03-08T23:10:45

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry hit the campaign trail in the South on Monday with new attacks on each other’s records.

Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, accused Bush of breaking promises to senior citizens and called the prescription drug package approved by Congress a billion-dollar giveaway to drug companies as he campaigned Monday in health-conscious Florida.

Bush accused Kerry of having proposed big cuts in intelligence spending just two years after the first attack on the World Trade Center, part of a re-election effort to depict his Democratic rival as weak on national security and the war against terrorism.

Campaigning in Florida, Kerry said, “Our seniors deserve the best care America has to offer. What they do not deserve is another four years of broken promises and failed policies from George W. Bush.”

Speaking to about 500 people at a town-hall meeting, Kerry drew loud cheers when he declared, “I will never privatize Social Security.”

The Massachusetts senator was courting the vast elderly population while sweeping across the politically crucial state. He repeatedly mentioned the disputed 2000 election, which decided the race for president between Bush and Al Gore, saying he is putting together a legal team to monitor voting and vote counting in Florida in November.

Kerry makes Florida appearances
Kerry, who had stops in Hollywood and West Palm Beach before ending his day in Tampa, said 2.8 million people in Florida lack health care and 315,000 people pay more than they should for prescription drugs.

“We’ll make sure that those without drug coverage aren’t left out in the cold,” he said. “I’m going to give you something that works and doesn’t give the insurance companies millions of dollars.”

Bush, who was traveling to Dallas for a fund-raiser Monday, planned to call attention to a 1995 bill that Kerry sponsored to trim intelligence spending by $1.5 billion over five years. The cut was part of what Kerry called a “budget-buster bill” to strip $90 billion from the budget and end 40 programs that he said were “pointless, wasteful, antiquated or just plain silly.”

Kerry’s proposal, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and calls for a peace dividend after decades of spending to thwart the Cold War opponent, failed to attract any co-sponsors and did not come up for a vote.

Republicans hope to raise doubts about Kerry’s ability to fight and win the war against terror, suggesting that his rhetoric does not match his 20-year record in the Senate. To fend off such criticism, Kerry has relied in large part on his decorated Navy service in Vietnam.

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The president was attending two Texas fund-raisers on Monday, including the popular Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Texas, the state that vaulted him to the presidency, remains a bedrock of Bush’s political support. It has sent his re-election campaign in excess of $13.2 million, more than any other state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign watchdog group. Dallas is among the top five metropolitan areas by volume of donations to his campaign.

Monday’s money swing opens another week that will also take Bush to Long Island, N.Y., for fund raising. He has collected more than $155 million for his re-election and is closing in on his goal of $170 million. Aides said last week they expect him to stop at that mark, but they wouldn’t rule out more.

The Texas trip also started Bush’s first full week of campaigning for re-election, following Kerry’s victory in a wave of primaries last week that cemented his grip on the Democratic nomination.

In touch with Edwards, Dean
As Kerry campaigned, his aides were speaking regularly by phone with former rivals John Edwards and Howard Dean. Kerry will meet with Dean in Washington on Wednesday, aides said, to discuss what role Dean can play in the campaign. Dean could be a valuable ally because of his huge Internet-based financial network.

Throughout a four-day Southern tour, Kerry has blamed Bush’s trade policies for job losses. But he has continued to criticize Bush on national security issues, raising questions about the handling of probes into terrorist attacks as well as intelligence suggesting weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq.

“The American people deserve an answer now as to why we had intelligence failures and what the security needs of our nation are,” Kerry said Sunday. He accused Bush of “stonewalling” separate probes into those issues, pointing to complaints by members of a federal commission investigating the attacks that Bush was resisting their efforts to get documents and question witnesses.

“Why is this administration stonewalling and resisting the investigation into what happened and why we had the greatest security failure in the history of our country?” Kerry said.

“The American people deserve an answer now,” he said. “The immediate instinct of the Republicans and this administration was to shut it down.”

The Bush campaign rejected the charges out of hand. “This is another inaccurate attack by John Kerry,” Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said. “Not a single person has refused to be interviewed,” he said, and the administration has allowed “unprecedented access” for investigators.

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