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Bush, Kerry go on the attack after debate
Updated: 2004-10-10 11:00

Democratic challenger John Kerry on Saturday claimed victory over President Bush in their second debate, mocked his rival's "scowling faces" and scoffed at the Republican incumbent's leadership skills.

The Massachusetts senator, campaigning in the vital battleground state of Ohio the morning after he and Bush faced off in a testy 90-minute exchange on Iraq, jobs and taxes, also expressed incredulity at the president's inability to own up to any mistakes.

"Do we want leadership -- as it's called -- that can't face reality and admit mistakes, or do we want leadership that sees the truth and tells the truth to the American people?" Kerry asked thousands of cheering supporters on a sports field at Lorain Community College in Elyria.

Kerry said the United States needed "not a single-minded leader, but a clear-headed leader, not a headstrong leader, but a well-reasoned leader."

Bush was sharper and more aggressive in Thursday night's debate in St. Louis than he was during their first encounter, but many analysts said he sometimes appeared angry and defensive in an effort to compensate for his lackluster performance in Miami on Sept. 30.

Kerry pounced on Bush's demeanor to help make his argument the president had come out second best.

"The reason I thought he was making all those scowling faces was because he saw the latest job numbers and he feels like most Americans -- pretty upset about them," Kerry said.

Hours before their town hall-style confrontation, the U.S. Labor Department released unemployment figures showing the economy added an anemic 96,000 jobs in September, well short of forecasts for 148,000 new hires.

Bush and Kerry, who are locked in a dead heat less than a month before the Nov. 2 election, meet in Tempe, Arizona, on Wednesday for their final debate.

"Two and 0, and we're moving onto the third and I look forward to it," Kerry said. Opinion polls showed the Democrat won the first matchup easily but most surveys gave him only a slight edge in the second or deemed it a virtual tie.

The Tempe debate will be devoted to domestic issues and Kerry previewed the tack he will take, accusing Bush of making the wrong choices for the U.S. economy as well as on the war in Iraq.

"It's not just in Iraq, it's right here at home, where every day the middle class is struggling to get ahead," he said. " Four more years of the wrong choices or four years of beginning to move America in the direction that creates jobs, creates health care, puts America's respect back where it ought to be."

Kerry portrayed Bush as stubborn and out of touch with reality.

"For me, the most stunning moment of the whole evening was when George Bush was asked to name three mistakes ... and the president couldn't even name one mistake," Kerry said. "He sort of glossed it over by saying 'I made some mistakes in the appointments that I made but I don't want to tell anybody who they are -- it might embarrass them."'

"Well, now every member of the Cabinet ... is standing around wondering was it that Cabinet member that disappeared or this Cabinet member that didn't tell the truth. I just want him to know I agree with him about those bad appointments.

Senior Kerry adviser Mike McCurry said the Bush campaign had backed itself into a corner by choosing a strategy of not acknowledging any shortcomings in decision-making or miscalculations on policy, especially on Iraq.

"That's a conscious choice and they have to live with that -- they can't backtrack on that now," McCurry said. "But there's point where that walks right into pig-headedness and that's the danger for them."

Bush attacks Kerry for 'dour pessimism'

President Bush sought momentum on Saturday from his second debate with Democratic Sen. John Kerry by attacking Kerry for saying he has a consistent position on Iraq and would not raise middle-class taxes.

"Who's he trying to kid?" Bush told thousands of cheering supporters in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen. "He can run, but he can't hide."

Bush aides were clearly buoyed by Bush's aggressive performance on Friday night after the president was widely panned for a lackluster performance in their first debate that helped the Massachusetts senator catch up in the polls.

At stump speeches in the swing states of Iowa and Minnesota, and earlier in St. Louis, Bush jumped on Kerry's debate denial that he had shifted positions on Iraq.

Kerry had said: "I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat."

"With a straight face he said, 'I have only had one position on Iraq,"' Bush told about 8,000 supporters at a rally in Waterloo, Iowa. "I could barely contain myself. He must think we've been on another planet."

Bush said Kerry had said in the spring of 2003 it was the right decision to invade Iraq but now says it was the wrong war. Kerry has said repeatedly that Bush rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.

"You know, after listening to his litany of complaints and his dour pessimism, it was all I could do not to make a bad face," said Bush, criticized after the first debate for scowling and looking irritated.

Bush aides rejected Kerry camp charges that Bush got angry at the debate when Kerry complained about "going it alone" in Iraq. "You tell Tony Blair we're going it alone," Bush had said, referring to the British prime minister, an Iraq ally.

Bush senior campaign adviser Karen Hughes said Bush was "impassioned" and "he was not going to let it stand."

Bush also challenged Kerry's pledge not to raise taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for his spending promises.

"We're not going to let (the) senator tax you. We're going to whip him in November," Bush said.

Asked if he would pledge not to raise taxes on middle-class Americans, Kerry looked into the camera and said: "I am not going to raise taxes. I have a tax cut."

Bush estimated Kerry's spending promises at $2 trillion and that his plan to take away tax cuts for Americans making more than $200,000 a year would raise $600 billion to $800 billion, leaving a gap of at least $1.2 trillion. The Kerry campaign disputes those figures.

"He can't have it both ways. To pay for the big spending program he's outlined during his campaign he will have to raise your taxes. He can run but he cannot hide," Bush said.

The Kerry campaign dismissed Bush's charges.

"The president continues to think he is running against some imaginary figure that his ad-makers created. It's time to come back to reality. He's running against John Kerry, who has a plan to get the country back on track," Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said.

The third and last presidential debate is on Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona.

Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, said Bush would attack Kerry's 20-year Senate record again and try to portray him as a liberal out of touch with mainstream America.

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