Schaefer, a Bush supporter, while conceding that he doesn't know much about Kerry, dismisses that question. He doubts that "Kerry's reaction would have been a lot different."
Another Bush backer, John Schatz of Queens, N.Y., also rejects the notion that Kerry would not be as well-equipped to protect the country.
"I don't think anybody is going to keep it safer than anybody else," said Schatz, a 62-year-old postal service worker who helped rescue victims of the disaster on Sept. 11 and whose sons, who work for the city's police and fire departments, lost close friends that day.
Schatz, making his first visit to the site in more than a year, found the name of a former neighbor on the necrology displayed on a fence next to the World Trade Center commuter train station, which reopened last year.
He worries about the financial drain the war on terrorism is taking on the country but believes it would best to give the president and his team another four years "just to keep everything intact" in that effort.
`A hornet's nest'
Because the president's counterterrorism campaign is closely linked to his handling of the war in Iraq, which gets much lower marks from the public, the issue blurs for many voters.
"We wouldn't be in this mess if Bush hadn't done what he did in Iraq. He stirred up a hornet's nest," said Cyril Clavers of Brillion, Wis., who believes Bush's miscalculations in Iraq have made the country less safe.
Clavers, a 43-year-old union worker at a paper plant, isn't particularly impressed with Kerry but said he thinks the Democrat "will do at least as much" to protect the country as Bush, because the government's counterterrorism apparatus "is already in place."
He, his wife and three children were among the first to step inside the Statue of Liberty since it partially reopened this month after being closed since Sept. 11. Visitors, who need reservations to be assured of an admission ticket, must pass through two security stations, one of which is more stringent than an airport security checkpoint, before being allowed to stand at Lady Liberty's feet.
Another tourist to Liberty Island, Mary Pearlman, a registered Democrat from Wilmette, Ill., isn't sure whether she will vote for Bush, as she did in 2000.
Pearlman believes Bush did make America safer by invading Iraq. "Now, those terrorists, whoever they are, realize we'll fight back," said the 46-year-old Pearlman. But at the same time, she thinks Bush has become "unguided" in Iraq.
She wants to hear more about his plans for that country before making up her mind.
Bush has said he'll offer his vision for the future in his acceptance speech Thursday night. But in his TV commercials and stump speeches, he often refers back to the Sept. 11 attacks, tying them to his "most solemn duty": keeping America safe and bringing terrorists "to justice, before they hurt us again."
Launching a cross-country pre-convention tour last week, with New York's former mayor at his side, Bush said he will "never forget the day Rudy and I went to the twin towers." If Bush and his strategists have their way, the voters won't, either.