Bush and Kerry continue duel on domestic issues

Across Midwestern states, candidates trade jabs on health care, jobs and draft

Election 2004

October 16, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MILWAUKEE - President Bush and Sen. John Kerry barnstormed across Midwestern battleground states yesterday, trading bitter criticisms on jobs, education and health care, as the Bush campaign angrily denied accusations by the Democrat that re-electing the president would raise the potential for a military draft.

Kerry was making what his campaign aides call his "closing arguments" in the presidential race, centered on a blistering condemnation of Bush's economic policies and a promise to create jobs, raise wages and cut costs for middle-class families.

"This president either just doesn't understand what's happened to our economy, or he understands and he just doesn't care," Kerry said in a speech at a technical college here. Bush "has proven beyond a doubt that he's out of touch with the average American family. He's out of ideas, and he's unwilling to change course, so we have to change course for him."

Bush went after Kerry on his education and health care plans, branding his opponent an out-of-the-mainstream liberal. The president defended his own domestic policy, saying, "I don't believe in big government and I don't believe in indifferent government. I'm a compassionate conservative."

Bush accused Kerry of not understanding the connection between improving education and creating jobs. Referring to a moment during a debate when Kerry accused him of changing the subject from a question about jobs to discuss education, Bush said: "The senator didn't seem to get it. ... No, good jobs start with good education."

The domestic duel will continue today as Kerry makes a swing through Ohio and Bush visits Florida.

Yesterday's skirmish began with the Des Moines Register'`s publication of an accusation by Kerry that a second Bush term would bring "the great potential of a draft" to sustain the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

The Bush campaign hit back swiftly. A campaign spokesman called the draft remark "fear-mongering" and said it was an indication that Kerry "is a candidate willing to do or say anything to score political points."

Bush - who vowed in the second debate last week, "There's not going to be a draft, period" while he is president - picked up the issue during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"We're modernizing and transforming the United States military so we can keep the all-volunteer army an all-volunteer army," Bush said.

Kerry, eager to project a positive face for undecided voters as he continues to hammer at Bush's domestic record, rolled across Wisconsin on a bus tour. It was Kerry's 19th visit to the state, which Democrat Al Gore won in 2000 by 6,000 votes.

Speaking to supporters at a technical college in Milwaukee, at a "brat fry" later in the day in Sheboygan and at an evening rally in Appleton, Kerry said he would fight to lower costs for health care, tuition and energy, and create jobs, issues he said Bush has failed to address.

"Let's be clear," Kerry said. "An economy like this doesn't just happen by itself. Whether people win or lose in our economy is not a matter of chance. It's not just the rough-and-tumble of life. It's a matter of choices."

Kerry said Bush had chosen tax cuts for the wealthy and companies that outsource jobs over help for the middle class.

The senator's amble through Wisconsin reached several important audiences, beginning with a midday speech in this Democratic-leaning city.

Kerry - flanked by soccer stars Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach - made a brief visit to a soccer field in the middle-class suburb of Brown Deer, where he was greeted by the screams of a girls' soccer team. The players crowded around him to kick a ball and chant his name as their mothers looked on and snapped pictures.

The fallout over Kerry's mention of Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney, continued yesterday.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush "does not think it was appropriate" for Kerry to talk about Mary Cheney. McClellan said he "cannot think of a single instance when a presidential candidate has talked about his opponent's daughter in such a way."

Bush ended his day with an outdoor rally in Oshkosh, Wis., where he botched one of his favorite lines. He complained that his "running mate" had visited Wisconsin recently and called the stadium where the Green Bay Packers play "Lambert Field."(It's Lambeau Field).

It was Kerry, not Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, who offended the football faithful of this state. Some in the crowd booed anyway, picking up that Bush meant to criticize his opponent, not the vice president.

Bush's visit Thursday night to southern Oregon was tinged by small but loud protests near the inn where he and first lady Laura Bush stayed.

Police in helmets and riot gear patrolled the streets, an odd scene for the quaint, historic village of Jacksonville.

The Medford, Ore., Mail Tribune reported yesterday that police arrested two protesters for disorderly conduct while authorities were clearing the streets for Bush's arrival. Police shot pepper balls at other protesters, some of whom chanted "No more years!"

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