As Kerry hits domestic front, Bush drums security

President says challenger would hurt U.S. defense

Recent poll shows close race

Mass. senator denounces incumbent's decisions

Election 2004

October 03, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ORLANDO, Fla. - As John Kerry worked to transform a solid first debate into a surge against President Bush by highlighting his domestic plans, he faced withering new attacks from the president, who said a "Kerry doctrine" on war would give foreign countries a sign-off on U.S. security.

Kerry, wrapping up a campaign swing through Florida, turned his focus to jobs, health care, energy and taxes, accusing Bush of having "turned his back on you and your families with almost every choice that he's made." In a speech at Freedom High School here, the Democrat said he would be a president who "has your back."

As the candidates traded some of their harshest barbs yet before sympathetic audiences in battleground states, a new poll showed Kerry essentially tied with Bush in the presidential race, having reversed a 9-point disadvantage. The latest Newsweek poll of registered voters, conducted after the candidates squared off in Thursday's foreign policy and homeland security debate, found 47 percent supporting Kerry and 45 percent backing Bush, a gap within the poll's margin of error of 4 percentage points.

In Ohio, Bush worked to squelch any momentum Kerry might have gotten from the debate, peppering the Democrat with criticism for the second day in a row as a weak-kneed leader who would cede to other nations major decisions about defending the country.

"[Kerry] said America has to pass a `global test' before we can use American troops to defend ourselves - you might remember that part of the debate," Bush told an audience packed into an old downtown theater in the city of Mansfield. "Senator Kerry's approach to foreign policy would give foreign countries veto power over our national security decisions."

"I have a different view," Bush added. "The president's job is not to take an international poll. The president's job is to defend America."

Bush was intensifying his attack on his opponent over Kerry's assertion during the debate that presidents faced a "global test" on decisions about whether to act pre-emptively to protect the United States.

Kerry made clear, though, that he did not believe foreign leaders should ever be able to "veto" decisions by the United States. Bush did not bring up that segment of Kerry's remarks.

Bush and his campaign team seemed determined to define the debate on their terms and erase any enduring impression that Kerry had won. At the very least, the president was able to deny Kerry what his campaign had hoped would be a day dominated by the Massachusetts senator's stinging critiques of Bush's domestic agenda.

Response to Bush

Kerry is hoping to capitalize on the heightened attention to the campaign among voters after the first presidential debate by highlighting domestic plans in advance of debates that will focus more on issues on the home front. Still, the Kerry campaign responded swiftly to Bush's "Kerry doctrine" remarks, accusing the president of distorting the senator's words. Former United Nations Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, a foreign policy adviser to Kerry, told reporters in a conference call that Kerry was not offering new doctrine but stating what has been standard U.S. policy for decades.

"You don't give up the right to pre-emption, but you make sure your decision is backed up by fact, stands up to scrutiny and has support domestically and internationally," Holbrooke said.

He said Bush's characterization of Kerry's words "needs to be corrected instantly and decisively before anyone believes it." Holbrooke added: "What Bush is trying to do is start the debate again - because he lost it."

By day's end, the Bush campaign had unveiled a new ad it plans to run beginning tomorrow on cable stations and in some battleground markets. In the ad, the narrator refers to the "Kerry doctrine" and to the senator's "global test" remark, concluding: "So we must seek permission from foreign governments before protecting America?"

The Kerry camp planned to respond with ads of its own that call Bush "lost" and "desperate."

"George Bush lost the debate. Now he's lying about it," an announcer says in Kerry's spot, according to a script.

Speaking to voters here, Kerry reprised one of his harshest lines against Bush from the debate, saying the president made a "colossal error of judgment in Iraq." Bush's mistakes there, Kerry said, were only one example of the president's failed policies.

He moved to counter what has been one of the central arguments of Bush's re-election campaign - and, according to polls, one of the most potent: that the country cannot afford to switch presidents amid war and terror threats.

"Time and again, George Bush has proven that he's just plain stubborn, out of touch, and unwilling to change course," Kerry said. To those who would say voters "shouldn't change horses in midstream," Kerry retorted: "If your horse is heading downstream towards a waterfall, it's time to change horses in midstream."

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