Bush, Kerry trade national security barbs
US President Bush and Sen. John Kerry accused each other of lacking the hard-nosed resolve of Cold War presidents — from Democrat Truman to Republican Reagan — reaching across party lines a week before Election Day to try to break their campaign deadlock.
With tensions rising Tuesday in both camps, Kerry escalated his criticism of Bush over explosives missing in Iraq, asserting that the weapons could be used against American troops and citizens. He accused the president of keeping the cost of war in Iraq under wraps until after Election Day.
Across the state, Bush said his rival favors "the position of weakness and inaction" contrary to "the great tradition of the Democratic Party."
A Los Angeles Times poll showed the popular vote tied, 48-48, with Bush-weary voters open to change on Iraq and the economy but harboring doubts about Kerry's ability to lead the nation against terror.
New state surveys showed the race also knotted in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the three most important battlegrounds in the race for 270 Electoral College votes.
After spending weeks casting Kerry as a flip-flopping liberal in TV ads, Bush planned to close the race with a 60-second commercial designed to portray himself as a trustworthy, steady leader.
The high point, according to advisers, is a clip of a choked-up Bush addressing the Republican National Convention about meeting the children of slain U.S. soldiers "who are told their dad or mom is a hero but would rather just have their dad or mom."
Kerry's latest ad accuses the Bush administration of failing to secure nearly 400 tons of explosives that are missing from a military installation south of Baghdad. "His Iraq misjudgments put our soldiers at risk, and make our country less secure," Kerry says of Bush in the ad.
He said in Green Bay the explosives "could be in the hands of terrorists, used to attack our troops or our people."
Vice President Dick Cheney responded for Bush from Florida, saying, "It is not at all clear that those explosives were even at the weapons facility when our troops arrived in the area of Baghdad."
In the battle of past presidents, Bush said Democrats Roosevelt,Truman and Kennedy showed "confidence and resolve in times of war and hours of crisis," asserting that Kerry lacks such mettle.
Kerry said Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan all built strong alliances, a contrast to Bush who Kerry said "has failed in his fundamental obligation as commander in chief to make America as safe and secure as we should be."
Later, in Nevada, the Democrat appealed in both Spanish and English to undecided voters. "We're in a bigger mess by the day and the president can't see it or can't admit it, but either way, America is less safe," he said.
Bush made a direct pitch to wavering Democrats, particularly moderates unsure about Kerry.
"If you believe America should lead with strength and purpose and confidence and resolve, I'd be honored to have your support and I'm asking for your vote," he said.
In a gesture of moderation aimed at the same voters, Bush told ABC-TV he supported civil unions for homosexual couples "if that's what a state chooses to do." The remark upset some conservatives who not only want to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, as does Bush, but also would bar state approval of gay civil unions.
Campaign pitches varied from deadly serious to almost silly. A radio ad reminded Wisconsin voters that Kerry got the name of their beloved Green Bay Packers' football stadium wrong. Kerry recruited rocker Bruce Springsteen to play at his rallies.
In Wisconsin and a dozen or so other competitive states, mailboxes were being flooded with campaign leaflets — most of them negative.
A Republican National Committee mailing features a picture of Jane Fonda and Michael Moore, two anti-war liberals supporting Kerry, and the headline, "John Kerry's heart and soul of America?"
In Ohio, voters received a mailing with a picture of a soldier in camouflage uniform with the caption, "Supporting him in Iraq shouldn't mean shortchanging working families in America."
Voters in New Mexico began getting recorded messages by telephone from an abortion-rights group, telling them Bush "has devoted four years to dismantling a woman's right to choose."
In Pennsylvania, the state released figures that show the Democratic Party registered 108,000 more new voters there than the GOP since the April primary, good news for Kerry if they actually cast ballots.
Both campaigns braced for a long Election Night — or longer — with many legal fights. A federal judge in Miami ruled against Democrats in saying Florida election officials will not be required to process incomplete voter registration forms.
First lady Laura Bush, who had planned to travel with her husband through Election Day, abruptly scheduled a solo trip to Florida, underscoring the hard-fought battle being waged in that state.
Former President Clinton, campaigning for Kerry a second straight day, told Jewish voters in Florida that Kerry's commitment to the security of Israel "would be unshakable."