IMAGE: Sen. John Kerry greeted supporters Wednesday in Baker, Calif., as he neared the end of his two-week cross-country campaign tour.
Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images
Sen. John Kerry greeted supporters Wednesday in Baker, Calif., as he neared the end of his two-week cross-country campaign tour.
updated 8/12/2004 11:17:39 PM ET 2004-08-13T03:17:39

President Bush on Thursday won the embrace of two California Republican icons, Nancy Reagan and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, hoping their glow would rub off on him in a state that remains hostile territory to him.

At a Los Angeles fund-raiser that brought in $3 million for the Republican National Committee, Bush praised Schwarzenegger for his performance following last year’s gubernatorial recall election.

“He came to this important state and he got the job done,” Bush told donors. “That’s how I hope people view me as well as the president. I came to the capital and got the job done.”

Earlier Thursday, in Nevada, Bush defended his decision to use the state’s Yucca Mountain as the nation’s high-level nuclear waste dump, an unpopular move in a swing state that he won four years ago.

“I said I would make a decision based upon science, not politics. I said I would listen to the scientists, those involved with determining whether or not this project could move forward in a safe manner and that’s exactly what I did,” Bush told supporters in this city 90 miles southeast of the proposed waste site.

Bush: Kerry pandering to Nevadans
Bush accused his presidential rival, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, of pandering to Nevada voters by playing both sides of the issue, part of a broader effort to cast the Massachusetts senator as someone who bends to the political winds.

“He says he’s strongly against Yucca here in Nevada, but he voted for it several times,” Bush claimed.

That is not exactly true.

Each time Kerry has faced the simple choice of voting whether or not to send waste to Yucca Mountain, he has voted against it. But he has voted for some measures that had provisions to allow nuclear dumps there. Some 16 years ago, Kerry voted for an overall budget bill that included a provision favoring putting the nuclear waste in Nevada.

Kerry cites Bush on waste site
Kerry visited Las Vegas earlier this week, and said that Bush broke a campaign promise to ensure science and not politics determined his decision whether to ship waste to Yucca Mountain.

Dozens of scientific studies remain incomplete and a recent federal appeals court ruling raised questions about whether the waste repository will be built, or at least meet its target of 2010 to begin operation.

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Bush said he was pleased to “allow this process to be appealed to the courts and to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

“I will stand by the decision of the courts and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Bush said.

Bush’s visit here was his second in two months. Though Nevada has only five electoral votes — a tiny slice of the 270 needed to win the presidency — it has become a hotly contested prize in an election that is so close.

A poll of likely Nevada voters in late July showed the race essentially tied.

Kerry dismisses Bush sales-tax plan

In California, Kerry said Thursday that Bush’s musing about a national sales tax is an insult to financially struggling voters and would amount to “one of the largest tax increases on the middle class in American history.”

The Democratic presidential nominee, during a speech at California State University, Dominguez Hills, tried to reverse partisan stereotypes by portraying the Republican president as the tax raiser and himself as a tax cutter.

Kerry said if Bush wants to create a national sales tax without increasing the deficit, people will end up paying at least 26 percent more for purchases on top of state and local sales taxes.

“We know exactly who that’s going to hurt,” Kerry said . “That’s going to hurt small business. It’s going to hurt jobs. It’s going to hit the pocketbooks of those who need and deserve tax relief most in America.”

Bush has suggested that overhauling the tax code would be a second-term priority if he is re-elected. While campaigning in Florida Tuesday, he said replacing the income tax with a federal sales tax is “an interesting idea that we ought to explore seriously.”

Kerry seized on Bush’s comments even as White House officials downplayed the idea and denied that any such plan is under consideration.

In hot pursuit
The two presidential candidates have been popping up in the same states within days of each other — sometimes within hours.

“This is not exactly the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but maybe it’s a modern media version,” said Peter Bragdon, who stepped down as chief of staff for Oregon Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski last month.

IMAGE: President Bush answered a question during a campaign event this week in Niceville, Fla., before heading west.
Kevin Lamarque  /  Reuters file
President Bush answered a question during a campaign event this week in Niceville, Fla., before heading west.

On Friday, the two rivals are holding simultaneous events in the Portland area, with Kerry holding a rally in downtown Portland and Bush appearing at a high school in a Portland suburb.

This comes after the candidates were just three blocks away from each other in Davenport, Iowa last week, and then showed up at different locations in Ohio in the space of a few hours. On Thursday, Bush visited the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica, Calif., at the same time that Kerry was appearing downtown.

Bush also has followed Kerry by less than 72 hours in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Each of those Western states being visited were decided by 6 percentage points or less in 2000. California, also on the joint itinerary, went for Democrat Al Gore by 12 percentage points in 2000.

Amy Casterline, executive director of the Oregon Republican Party, called the Portland visits “pure coincidence.”

“Seeing their president here, Republicans are assured that just because we’re on the West Coast, the president isn’t writing us off,” she said.

But Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter thinks the Bush campaign is looking at Kerry’s itinerary, and then scheduling trips accordingly to try and cut into any bump in support the Democrat might get from visiting a swing state.

However, Cutter said they welcome Bush’s appearances. “It highlights the differences between us,” she said.

Bush, Cheney pummel Kerry on war
In Ohio, Vice President Dick Cheney kept up the Republican campaign’s drumbeat of Kerry’s on military affairs, saying Thursday that Kerry’s call for a “more sensitive” war on terror would not impress the Sept. 11 terrorists or the Islamic militants who had beheaded U.S. citizens.

Bush used a speech Wednesday night in Albuquerque, N.M., to say Kerry’s pledge to bring large numbers of troops home from Iraq within a year would embolden the Iraqi insurgency and jeopardize the mission.

“We all want the mission to be completed as quickly as possible, but we want the mission to be complete,” Bush told an “Ask President Bush” event.

“The mission is not going to be completed as quickly as possible if the enemy thinks we’re going to be removing a substantial number of troops in six months,” he said.

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer accused Bush of distorting the senator’s words. Kerry stressed that achieving the goal of fewer U.S. troops would depend on international assistance and greater stability in Iraq, Singer said.

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