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Bush and Kerry rush back to the campaign trail to continue the debate over Iraq

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ President Bush ripped into John Kerry on Iraq Friday, taking a more aggressive approach than he had in the previous night's debate as both candidates rushed back to the campaign trail to put their own spin on the first big faceoff.

Bush accused Kerry of withholding support for American troops and offering to turn over decisions about the nation's security to other countries. He said, ``The use of troops to defend America must never be subject to a veto from countries like France.''

The president spoke to a friendly crowd at a rally in Allentown, while Kerry was making a campaign stop in Tampa, Fla., the day after the debate at the University of Miami.

Voters who watched the policy-driven debate were impressed by Kerry, according to three post-debate polls _ by ABC News, CBS News and CNN-USA Today-Gallup. The senator's campaign prepared a TV ad that featured newspaper headlines from Friday praising his performance, and the Democratic National Committee rolled out a Web video showing clips of Bush appearing frustrated during the debate.

On a sunny, fall day, Bush spoke to a crowd of thousands in a park in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.

Bush was introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who earlier in the day had said that the debate had been Kerry's ``brightest moment'' of the campaign. He said here that Bush ``has the strength, he has the courage. He has not wavered.''

Determined to rebound, Bush said Kerry voted to use military force in Iraq but then voted against the administration's request for $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. ``The president cannot keep changing his mind,'' Bush said, thumping his finger on the lectern. ``The president must speak clearly. And the president must mean what he says.''

Bush noted that Kerry had said he would bring allies together to find a solution for Iraq. Bush said he had been to many summits. ``I've never seen a meeting that would depose a tyrant or bring a terrorist to justice. ... I will never submit America's security to an international test.''

Bush contended that Kerry had once supported removing Saddam Hussein from power but now ``says it was all a mistake.''

``You can't have it both ways,'' Bush said. ``You can't be for getting rid of Saddam Hussein when things look good and against it when times are hard.''

Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, said Friday he told Kerry after the debate ``I think people saw the next commander in chief,'' and he criticized Bush for failing to acknowledge problems in Iraq. ``You can't fix a problem if you're not willing to admit that mistakes have been made and that you have a problem,'' he told ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

McCain, the Arizona Republican who informally advised Bush on how to debate his friend and Senate colleague, told reporters in Miami that ``Kerry came out slugging.''

When Kerry leveled some of his charges, Bush appeared irritated and scowled at times and, at other moments, glanced away in apparent disgust. Kerry often took notes when the president spoke. The television networks offered a split screen to viewers so they could see both men at the same time and watch their reactions.

Bush knew he would be on camera during the entire debate and was aware that the networks had not agreed to show only the candidate who was speaking, Bush campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish said. Regarding Bush's facial reactions, Devenish said: ``The president reacted honestly. It showed the president really believes in his convictions.''

From the first question, Kerry went on the offensive, accusing Bush of leaving U.S. alliances around the world ``in shatters'' and later calling Iraq ``this incredible mess.'' Bush said Kerry had voted to authorize the war he now criticizes. ``That's not how a commander in chief acts,'' Bush said.

Kerry summed up Bush's strategy for Iraq as ``more of the same'' and added: ``This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America.''

Bush acknowledged that not every American agrees with the decisions he's made. ``But people know where I stand,'' Bush said, suggesting they don't know where Kerry stands. ``People out there listening know what I believe.''

On Iraq, Bush criticized Kerry for saying it was the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place. ``What message does that send to our troops?'' the president said. ``Not a message a commander in chief gives.''

Repeating a line he has used countless times to show his opponent is inconsistent, Bush tweaked Kerry for saying he voted for an $87 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan before he voted against it.

Kerry shot back, ``Well, you know, when I talked bout the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?''

Trying to persuade voters that he is tough enough to be commander in chief, Kerry said, ``I believe in being strong and resolute and determined. And I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are.'' He said that Bush, in invading Iraq, lost sight of the goal of capturing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

But Bush insisted that ``the world is safer without Saddam Hussein.'' He called Iraq ``a central part in the war on terror'' and said 75 percent of bin Laden's leadership had been brought to justice.

Trying to turn Kerry's criticism against him, Bush said, ``I understand what it means to be the commander in chief. And if I were to ever say, 'This is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place,' the troops would wonder, 'How can I follow this guy?'''
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