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Bush and Kerry trade barbs on campaign trail

President Bush questioned John Kerry's Iraq funding vote while Kerry accused Bush of turning his back on science as both candidates visited battleground states Saturday.
Lucy Lucmila Joachim Orlando, center, along with other supporters cheer President Bush at the Office Depot Center during a campaign rally Saturday.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush accused Sen. John Kerry on Saturday of bowing to the "shifting sands of political convenience" when it comes to the war on terror. The Democrat stuck to domestic issues, blaming Bush for a shortage of flu vaccines.

"Millions of Americans won't get their flu shots, including seniors and children," Kerry said while also blasting Bush on joblessness. "We've got people standing in line for hours on end, some of them in their 70s and 80s, hoping to be among the lucky ones to get it."

With new polls showing the race tied or Bush slightly ahead, both candidates found new ways to go negative while rallying supporters in the campaign's two most crucial states. The incumbent was in Florida, his challenger in Ohio.

Tailored appeals
Bush and Kerry also tailored their appeals. The Democrat, a Catholic, was going to Mass and picking up a hunting license, a pitch to Ohio's socially conservative Democrats motivated by values issues and gun rights.

Bush appealed to Florida's large Jewish population by signing a bill requiring the State Department to document attacks on Jews around the world. The department had opposed the measure, calling it unnecessary.

Amid strobe lights and swirling smoke, Bush's campaign bus drove into a darkened sports arena here, depositing the president on stage with red-white-and-blue lights flickering across a crowd of 10,000 supporters. He noted that a year ago Sunday his opponent voted against an $87 billion bill for military reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Senator Kerry apparently decided supporting the troops even while they were in harm's way was not as important as shoring up his own political position," Bush said.

Kerry, a four-term senator from Massachusetts, voted against the bill to protest Bush's policies on Iraq during the Democratic nomination fight. Kerry was trying to overtake anti-war candidate Howard Dean.

To a chorus of anti-Kerry boos, Bush accused his rival of playing politics with war: "At a time of great threat to our country, at a time of great challenge to the world, the commander in chief must stand on principle, not the shifting sands of political convenience."

Kerry's campaign noted that a year ago Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned in a memo to the White House of problems in Iraq. "The fact that George Bush is continuing to rely on these same desperate attacks tells a lot about how a second Bush term would just be more of the same," Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said.

In Ohio, where 20 electoral votes are at stake, Kerry accused Bush of missing signs that a flu vaccine shortage was imminent. The attack fit into a broader campaign theme _ that on Iraq, the economy and many other matters, Bush is disconnected from problems facing Americans.

Kerry said, "What's happening with the flu vaccine is really an example of everything this administration does, deny it, pretend it's not there, and then try to hid it when it comes out and act surprised." His campaign released a television ad that says Bush "failed to fix the problem."

A Bush spokesman accused Kerry of hypocrisy for criticizing the president after voting against a measure that would protect vaccine manufactures from punitive damages.

Kerry hopes the issue cuts against Bush among women and the elderly, especially in Florida, where running mate John Edwards campaigned Saturday. Kerry himself was due in the state Sunday and Monday.

Four years ago, Bush won Florida by 537 votes after the Supreme Court stopped a disputed recount. In his bid for the winning margin of 270 electoral votes, Kerry needs to win at least one state that Bush claimed in 2000.

Both campaigns are marshaling armies of lawyers to prepare for the prospect of legal challenges in Florida and several other states Election Day. Tom Josefiak, the Bush campaign's top lawyer, said Saturday "it may takes days or weeks" after Nov. 2 to determine the winner.

The race in Ohio is just as close. Bush won the state with relative ease four years ago, but Ohio has lost 237,000 jobs since he took office.

Introducing Kerry in Xenia, Ohio, laid-off worker Mike Adams pulled his empty pockets out of his jeans and angrily challenged assertions that Bush's tax cuts have benefited the middle class. "I'd like him to tell me where that money is now," Adams said.

Kerry hugged the man and said, "His story underscores the great truth gap between what this administration tells you and what life is really like."

In his weekly radio address, Bush said the economy "has grown at the fastest rate of any major industrialized nation." Kerry used the Democratic address to accuse Bush of banning stem-cell research, an exaggeration of the president's policy to restrict drastically the studies.

Draft issue
On Friday, Kerry said that there was “great potential” for a new military draft to replace overextended U.S. troops in Iraq if President Bush won a second term, despite Bush’s repeated pledges to maintain the all-volunteer service. Republicans rejected the suggestion as “fear-mongering.”

At a rally in Milwaukee, Kerry said Bush was “out of ideas, out of touch and unwilling to change” and accused him of mishandling the economy. Bush, campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called his rival an unrepentant liberal seeking to hide his record.

Kerry raised the draft issue in an interview The Des Moines Register published Friday.

“With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of a draft. Because if we go it alone, I don’t know how you do it with the current overextension” of the military, Kerry said.

A spokesman for the Bush campaign, Steve Schmidt, dismissed Kerry’s comments as “fear-mongering” and suggested that Kerry was spreading “false Internet rumors.”

Kerry has suggested that Bush’s heavy use of National Guard and Reserve troops has created a “backdoor draft.” But his latest comments went further.

Bush did not directly respond, but he said in Cedar Rapids that he was “modernizing and transforming our United States military to keep the all-volunteer army an all-volunteer army.”

In the second presidential debate, Bush said, “We’re not going to have a draft, period.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made similar statements.

In other developments:

  • Vice President Dick Cheney toured Michigan by bus. At a stop at a restaurant in Berrien Township, he was asked what he and Bush would do to help the working poor. “The best solution for poverty is a job,” Cheney said, contending that Bush’s tax cuts were helping small businesses create more of them.
  • The Kerry campaign requested time on Sinclair Broadcast Group stations to respond to an anti-Kerry documentary to be aired next week. The Maryland-based company has asked its 62 television stations, many of them in swing states, to pre-empt regular programming to air “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.”