Bush says election all about keeping Americans safe; Kerry camp claims fearmongering


Friday, October 22nd 2004, 9:09 pm
By: News On 6


WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) _ President Bush said Friday that the choice facing voters amounts to who can keep Americans safer from terrorists and that John Kerry does not measure up. Kerry's campaign accused the president of resorting to fear-mongering out of desperation as the rivals exchanged accusations across battleground states.

``All progress on every other issue depends on the safety of our citizens,'' Bush told supporters in a sports arena in Wilkes-Barre, delivering a retooled stump speech that portrays Kerry as naive on terror and eager to raise taxes.

Kerry retorted that Bush had him wrong on both counts. ``We need a president who defends America and who fights for the middle class at the same time,'' Kerry said in Milwaukee. ``I guarantee you I will leave no stone unturned to protect this country I love.''

Bush suggested his Democratic rival ``does not understand the enemy we face and has no idea how to keep America secure.'' His campaign reinforced that theme with a new television ad with chilling imagery of prowling wolves in a dense forest. ``Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm,'' an announcer says.

The Kerry-Edwards campaign was quick to fire back.

``They have stooped so low now that they are using a pack of wolves running around a forest trying to scare you. This president is trying to scare America ... in a despicable and contemptible way,'' Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards said in Boynton Beach, Fla.

The Democrats had their own new animal ad, portraying the Republican side as an ostrich with its head in the sand, the Democratic side as an eagle.

With just 11 days to the election, Bush campaigned in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, which account for one-fourth of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. Bush won Florida and Ohio in 2000. Pennsylvania is his top goal among Democratic-leaning states.

Kerry was in Wisconsin and Nevada, the first won by Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and the second by Bush.

Polls show the race is close in all of the states Bush and Kerry campaigned in on Friday.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid introduced Kerry to a rally of thousands in Reno, Nev., confessing that he had doubts about the Democratic candidate's prospects and called one of Kerry's top advisers, John Sasso, about six weeks ago.

Reid said Sasso told him, ``Don't worry about John Kerry. I've known him for 23 years, and he's always at his best when his back is to the wall.''

``Senator Kerry proved Sasso right,'' Reid said. ``Look at those three debates _ three to nothing.''

Speaking in Milwaukee, Kerry pledged to support working women and their children if elected. He said his combination of plans to raise the minimum wage, improve education and expand health care would help women struggling to care for their families.

Kerry is seeking to energize one of the party's traditionally strongest blocs. Four years ago 54 percent of women voted for Democrat Al Gore while 43 percent voted for Bush. An Associated Press-Ipsos survey finds Kerry with support from 55 percent of women to 40 percent for Bush this year among likely voters.

The Massachusetts senator told his audience he would reverse financial and educational loses that he said women had suffered under the Republican administration. ``No matter how tough it gets, no one in the White House seems to be listening,'' Kerry said.

He appeared with Caroline Kennedy, who said her father always said he could not have won the presidency without Wisconsin's support and she hoped Kerry could count on the same help.

Kerry's overture to women came a day after he reached out to a conservative political bloc _ gun owners and outdoorsmen _ with a goose-hunting trip in Ohio.

Bush, focusing anew on the war on terror, reminded voters that this was the first presidential election since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and said the threat had not subsided. He said Kerry sees the war on terror primarily as a law enforcement and intelligence-gathering operation, a contention Kerry repeatedly denies.

Bush also spoke of differences with Kerry over what he called ``the bedrock values that are so critical to our families and our future.''

In his most extensive campaign-trail remarks on the subject of abortion, Bush raised Kerry's votes against laws on parental notification and violence against ``unborn victims.''

``Here my opponent and I are miles apart,'' Bush said.

The increased emphasis on cultural values underscored the importance the Bush-Cheney camp is placing in the final stretch on energizing the president's base of support among religious conservatives.

Bush ridiculed Kerry on his goose hunting trip. ``When it comes to taxes, he can run in a camouflage outfit, but he cannot hide,'' Bush said. Later in Canton, Ohio, Bush uttered a slightly different version: ``He can run _ he can even run in camo _ but he can't hide.''

In other campaign-related developments:

_ The Labor Department reported that unemployment declined last month in six key battleground states where polls find the race essentially tied: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Nevada. The jobless rate rose in two other states in that category: Wisconsin and Iowa.

_ Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed with Bush that Kerry had ``a fundamental misunderstanding'' of the war in Iraq but said in an interview on NBC's ``Today'' show that Bush was better qualified to lead the war on terrorism, ``the transcendent issue of our time.''