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Bush, Kerry shift themes to economy

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, shifting away from the debate over war and terrorism, return to economic issues in campaign stops in two closely divided states.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush and John Kerry, shifting away from the sharp debate over war and terrorism, return to bread-and-butter economic issues in campaign stops in two closely divided states.

Bush planned to trumpet his economic agenda Saturday, encouraging policies that let individuals and families hold a stake in an “ownership society” on a bus tour that marked his 27th trip to Ohio.

That agenda includes partly privatized Social Security accounts, homeownership and changes in health care, along with the promotion of the president’s signature tax cuts.

His Democratic opponent scheduled a speech for delivery in Florida that accused Bush of forgetting middle-class families and favoring wealthy special interests.

“For the last two years, I’ve traveled all over this country and listened to the stories of Americans struggling to make ends meet,” Kerry said in prepared remarks. “I’ve also shared their frustration at this administration’s constant state of denial, which neglects their needs.”

Repeating the theme he hit during the first presidential debate, Kerry said, “George Bush has a four word plan — more of the same.”

Bush’s tour through Ohio comes as polls show the race to be close. Hurricanes and their aftermath have complicated polling and campaigning in Florida, where some polls show Bush ahead and others indicate a close race.

Look ahead to next debate
The switch from foreign matters to pocketbook issues comes as the campaigns look ahead to the candidates’ second face-to-face meeting on Friday, where undecided voters pose the questions.

The campaign opponents roared out of the first debate with sharpened attacks over Iraq and terrorism, hitting the campaign trail with more aggressive attacks and hoping to influence voters’ impressions of their performance.

Instant polls revealed that viewers thought Kerry performed more ably, and Democrats claimed a clear-cut victory. The Republican campaign said the president won in substance, if not style.

Both candidates seized the opportunity Friday to mock each other’s performance.

“He keeps trying to say, ’Well, we don’t want somebody who wants to leave.’ He says, ’We don’t want to wilt or waver.’ I don’t know how many times I heard that,” Kerry said at a Florida campaign stop Friday.

“Well, Mr. President, nobody’s talking about leaving, nobody’s talking about wilting and wavering. We’re talking about winning and getting the job done right,” Kerry said.

Bush, campaigning before an enthusiastic crowd, mocked Kerry’s debate comments about a “global test.” “Listen, I’ll continue to work with our allies and the international community, but I will never submit America’s national security to an international test,” he said.