Kerry accuses Bush of lying on Iraq

New opinion poll shows race again virtually even

Election 2004

September 17, 2004|By Maria L. La Ganga | Maria L. La Ganga,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LAS VEGAS - Sen. John Kerry said yesterday that the Bush administration has been "shortchanging" members of the National Guard, many of whom have been killed or wounded alongside active-duty troops in Iraq.

Speaking yesterday at the National Guard's annual convention, the Massachusetts Democrat delivered perhaps his sharpest critique to date of President Bush's leadership and the war in Iraq. Kerry pledged to improve health coverage, training and equipment for the tens of thousands of Guard members who have been pressed into full-time duty because of the conflict.

"Today, respectfully, I'd like to ask President Bush a simple question," he said. "When our Guardsmen and women are fighting the same war as our active-duty troops, when they're facing the same dangers and coming home in the same wheelchairs, stretchers and flag-draped coffins, how can we refuse to give them the same resources and respect we give our regular troops?"

Standing on the stage from which Bush had addressed the group on Tuesday, Kerry accused Bush of living in "a fantasy world of spin," telling thousands of members of the National Guard gathered here that Americans deserve a president who is strong enough to lead and strong enough to tell the truth about the spiraling violence in Iraq.

He noted that more than 1,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq - 100 of them members of the Guard - but that Bush did not mention it in his speech to the group two days earlier.

The president "didn't tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are actually getting bolder, that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists," Kerry said.

Kerry's comments came as the latest survey by the Pew Research Center showed the presidential race again virtually even. Andrew Kohut, director of the survey, said polling that ended Sept. 10 gave Bush a 15 percentage point lead over Kerry among likely voters, 54 percent to 39 percent. But polling that ended Sept. 14 showed Bush with a statistically insignificant margin of 1 percentage point, 47 percent to 46 percent.

The Democratic presidential nominee received several standing ovations yesterday for promising improved benefits and equipment for the National Guard, but he heard only silence - and a boo - as he accused Bush of dishonesty and a failure to lead.

Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, called Kerry's speech "transparent political opportunism."

"Today's speech by John Kerry offered pessimism, defeatism, and Monday morning quarterbacking from a candidate who voted for the war in Iraq and then voted against funds for the troops he sent into harm's way," Schmidt said in a written statement.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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