Bush, Kerry campaign in West before debate
Bracing for their final debate, John Kerry accused President Bush of favoring "friends in the oil industry" over consumers strapped with rising fuel bills on Monday while Bush said his challenger so misunderstood the war on terror that he thought it could be reduced to "a nuisance" akin to prostitution or illegal gambling.
Both candidates campaigned in the West ahead of their third presidential debate, which will take place Wednesday night at Arizona State University in Tempe. Kerry focused on domestic issues ¡ª the subject of that debate ¡ª and criticized Bush and the Republican-led Congress for not doing more to reduce U.S. dependance on imported oil.
Bush mixed domestic policy with national security, criticizing Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal while questioning anew the Democrat's fitness to lead the war against terror.
At a rally in Hobbs, N.M., the Republican incumbent ridiculed Kerry for saying in an interview in The New York Times Magazine, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they're a nuisance."
In the interview published Sunday, Kerry compared the anti-terror battle to efforts by law enforcement to root out prostitution or illegal gambling, knowing such an activity could never be ended but could be reduced to where "it isn't threatening people's lives every day." He cited his experience as a former prosecutor in Massachusetts.
"I couldn't disagree more," Bush said. "Our goal is not to reduce terror to some acceptable level of nuisance. Our goal is to defeat terror by staying on the offensive."
The Bush campaign also takes on the "nuisance" comment in a new television ad. And Vice President Dick Cheney, campaigning in Medford, N.J., called Kerry's remarks "naive and dangerous."
Phil Singer, a Kerry-Edwards spokesman, said the Republicans took Kerry's single sentence out of context. "Considering that George Bush doesn't think we can win the war on terror, let Osama bin Laden escape and rushed into Iraq with no plan to win the peace, it's no surprise that his campaign is distorting every word John Kerry has ever said," he said.
Kerry, in Santa Fe, said record oil prices, which have propelled gasoline to over $2 a gallon in many places, "means a lot more profit for this president's friends in the oil industry. But for most middle class Americans, the Bush tax increase is a tax increase that they can't afford."
He complained that Congress was ending "another session without passing a good energy bill for America." Administration-backed legislation, which includes a variety of tax and other incentives to encourage more domestic energy production, has been blocked by a largely Democratic coalition of opponents.
"John Kerry's obstruction of a national energy policy makes his current political opportunism completely hypocritical," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.
Kerry has proposed a trust fund for developing clean fuels, incentives for making buildings more energy-efficient and an upgrade of the nation's electricity grids.
Kerry said he came to New Mexico "to get some clean New Mexico air, get some of that good mountain inspiration" for Wednesday's debate. The visit also could help build support in a state where a poll taken after the first debate showed him virtually tied with Bush. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore narrowly won New Mexico.
Across the state in Hobbs, Bush criticized Kerry's record on taxes, health care and other domestic issues.
The president also mocked Kerry's stance on a Bush-backed forest law that makes it easier for timber companies to cut wood from national forests. Bush argues that thinning forests helps prevent devastating fires.
"My opponent was against it. Now, he says he likes parts of the law," Bush said. "I guess it's not only the wildfires that shift in the wind."
Kerry favors focusing thinning operations on the parts of fire-prone forests that pose the most immediate threat to communities. He criticizes Bush's broader approach as a boon to big timber companies.
Bush was accompanied by daughter Jenna Bush as well as his nephew, George P. Bush, who often helps court Hispanic voters for the Bush ticket.
Later, at a fund-raising luncheon in Denver for Republican Senate candidate Pete Coors, Bush said the beer heir might not always vote with him "but I know I'd be able to count on him on the big issues."
Coors suggested on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that Bush's Iraq war resolution would get far less congressional support now than when it was adopted in late 2003, and that "we should be more worried today" about weapons ambitions of Iran and North Korea. Bush did not specifically refer to those comments.
Bush closed the day at a raucous outdoor rally in the scenic Red Rocks park outside Denver. Retired Gen. Tommy Franks, picking up on the day's theme, introduced his former commander in chief as a man with "the character not to tie but to win against the terrorists."