President Bush Campaigns In Northern Swing States
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images
President Bush during a campaign rally at Devos Place on Saturday in Grand Rapids, Mich. news services
updated 10/31/2004 10:27:37 AM ET 2004-10-31T15:27:37

With the 2004 presidential race still a tossup, President Bush and challenger Democrat John Kerry charged into the final two days of the contest trying to turn to their advantage an October surprise appearance by America’s most hated enemy.

“The terrorists who killed thousands of innocent people are still dangerous and they are determined,” Bush told supporters at a campaign rally a day after a new videotape message from terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden was broadcast.

On the stump just 25 miles from the president in eastern Wisconsin, Kerry responded to bin Laden’s re-emergence with his months-old criticism of Bush’s post-Sept. 11 tactics in Afghanistan, bin Laden’s once and perhaps current home.

“As I have said for two years now, when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, it was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them to Afghan warlords,” Kerry said Saturday. “It was wrong to divert our forces from Afghanistan so we could rush to war with Iraq without a plan to win the peace.”

The men were campaigning Sunday in tightly contested battleground states. Both had appearances scheduled in Florida and Ohio; Kerry was also speaking in New Hampshire.

A new poll showed the president moving ahead of Kerry in the popular vote, and Democrats said their private surveys hinted at momentum for Bush.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card, interviewed Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition,” was confident in predicting a Bush victory.

“We’ve got over a million volunteers in key battleground states helping the president get the vote out,.” he said. “I really see tremendous momentum for the president.”

On the stump Saturday, the two candidates responded to the bin Laden tape in ways reflecting their long-held campaign strategies.

Video: Raising the security stakes The president — who throughout the campaign has sought to deflect voter concerns about the war in Iraq, his handling of the economy and his job performance overall by fueling fears about terrorism — continued that theme.

At his first stop in GOP-leaning western Michigan, he reminded supporters of the 2001 attacks. “Americans go to the polls at a time of war and ongoing threats unlike any we have faced before,” Bush said.

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In response to the videotape, the Bush administration warned state and local officials that the tape may be intended to promote or signal an attack.

Kerry has tried to tap anti-war sentiment within the ranks of the Democratic Party while assuring swing voters that he would keep them safe. The decorated Vietnam War veteran pledged anew to “destroy, capture, kill Osama bin Laden and all of the terrorists.”

With a touch of swagger, Kerry began one sentence by saying, “When I am president,” and pledged to provide “leadership and hope” to U.S. troops seeking a quick return home from Iraq.

Reaching out to Latino vote
Saturday night, Bush and Kerry both appealed to the Latino vote by appearing on the popular Spanish-language television show, Sabado Gigante.

The two were shown in separate prerecorded interviews — Bush from Washington and Kerry from Scranton, Pa.

The appearances in the middle of prime time Spanish-language viewing, if somewhat incongruous amid the beauty makeovers of audience members and tear-jerking reunions between long-feuding relatives, were doubtless seen as a bonus for both candidates in the campaign's final days.

According to U.S. Census figures, Hispanics are the country’s largest minority, with about 40 million people. The number of eligible Latino voters this year has increased by about one-fifth to some 16 million people since 2000, according to research group the Pew Hispanic Center. Nationwide, polls have shown Hispanics favoring Kerry by a wide margin.

Throughout the battlegrounds, Kerry’s mostly paid-army of organizers were pitted against Bush’s largely volunteer-driven team to get supporters to the polls Tuesday. It’s too late for some: Early voting mushroomed this year and, in Florida alone, nearly 2 million voters have already cast ballots.

“It looks like the All-American tradition of voting on Election Day is going out the window,” said Fred D. Galey, elections supervisor in Brevard County.

In Maine, a state Bush expects to lose to Kerry, the Democrat poured last-minute money into a Social Security ad aimed at elderly voters in the north. Unlike most states which have a winner-take-all system, Maine awards two of its four electoral votes based on congressional district votes.

Hawaii’s four electoral votes drew Democrat Al Gore to the islands he won in 2000. Wearing a green-and-red flower lei, the former vice president tried to shore up Kerry’s campaign in the Democratic bastion.

Video: Kerry sharpens attacks Rock musician John Bon Jovi and actor Ashton Kutcher campaigned with Kerry in Iowa, another Gore-won state looking shaky for Democrats. “You have the power to give America a fresh start,” Kerry said, borrowing the campaign slogan of former Democratic rival Howard Dean.

The congressional races did not lack for intensity, an unexpectedly close Senate campaign in Kentucky among them. “I think we’ve all broken the Ten Commandments,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, accused by his Democratic rival of violating two of them. Dan Mongiardo made his charge after Republicans suggested he is gay, which he denied.

In a presidential race this close, both sides are on the alert for below-the-radar nastiness. Democrats said a bogus letter was circulating in South Carolina, threatening the arrest of voters who had outstanding parking tickets or failed to pay child support.

Vice President Dick Cheney told Pennsylvania Republicans that the bin Laden tape is “a reminder that we are engaged in a global war on terror.”

McCain, who has repeatedly campaigned on Bush’s behalf, said the terrorists’ videotape “focuses America’s attention on the war on terrorism. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but I think it does have an effect,” he said.

Kerry spokesman, Mike McCurry, rejected Republican assertions that the Democrat was playing politics with the bin Laden tape.

A Newsweek poll showed Bush ahead of Kerry 50-44 percent. A week ago, the same survey had the race tied. The president briefly opened a small lead in an ABC poll, but it had vanished by Saturday night.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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