updated 9/8/2004 4:40:12 PM ET 2004-09-08T20:40:12

Sen. John Edwards accused Vice President Dick Cheney of “un-American” campaign rhetoric on Wednesday, answering the Republican’s day-old charge that a vote for the Democratic ticket this fall could open the United States to another terrorist attack.

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“This statement by the vice president of the United States was intended to divide us,” said Edwards, vice presidential running mate to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. “It was calculated to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people. It’s wrong and it’s un-American.”

The Democrat called on President Bush to renounce Cheney’s comments.

Edwards made his comments to supporters while campaigning in West Virginia, a day after Cheney said at a town hall meeting in Iowa, “It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

Bush declined to comment on Cheney’s statement when asked about it Wednesday at the White House. Spokesman Scott McClellan said, “There are differences in how the two candidates approach the war on terror. That’s what the vice president was talking about in his remarks.”

Edwards accused Cheney of going well beyond that, and he reminded his audience that Bush had promised in 2000 to unite the country and restore honor and dignity to the White House.

“This statement by his vice president was not only intended to divide us. In addition to that, it was dishonorable and undignified,” Edwards said. “This is a test for the president. We will see whether this president meets that test over the coming days.”

Cheney was campaigning Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa, when he suggested the United States, if Kerry were elected, would risk falling back into a “pre-9/11 mind-set” that terrorist attacks are criminal acts that require a reactive approach. Bush’s offensive approach works to root out terrorists where they plan and train, he said.

On Capitol Hill during a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he didn’t know in what context Cheney made the “wrong choice” warning but assumed it was based on strong feelings by Cheney that Bush has been a bold and reliable commander in chief in the war on terrorism.

“He is tough when it comes to terrorism, he will not compromise when it comes to terrorism, and it is crystal clear where he stands,” Frist said. “I believe he, in using that definition of the commander in chief, would be stronger than John Kerry.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called the Cheney statement unfortunate and inaccurate.

“When it comes to the war on terror, we have to be pulling this country together, not dividing it,” Daschle said. “We have to avoid that kind of rhetoric, and I hope that the vice president will be very careful about comments like that in the future.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said “there isn’t a shred of evidence to indicate that a terrorist attack is more likely under a Bush or Kerry administration.”

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