Candidates let the accusations fly

Bush and Kerry assail each other's credibility

Election 2004

October 17, 2004|By David L. Greene and Julie Hirschfeld Davis | David L. Greene and Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SUNRISE, Fla. -- President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry directly challenged each other's credibility as they stumped yesterday in the two big swing states that each believes could deliver the election -- Florida, with its trove of 27 electoral votes, and Ohio with 20.

Sweeping through South Florida, Bush delivered a blistering -- and familiar -- attack on Kerry's foreign policy, saying he wanted to mark the one-year anniversary of Kerry's "no" vote on an $87 billion funding bill to support the troops and underwrite reconstruction in Iraq.

"He's had many, and conflicting, positions on the issue," Bush told a crowd that was loud and supportive but did not fill a hockey arena outside Fort Lauderdale. "It's a case study into why his contradictions call into question his credibility and his ability to lead our nation."

Kerry accused Bush of running an administration based on obfuscation and disingenuous denials.

With Americans worried about the flu vaccine shortage, Kerry blamed Bush for failing to heed early "red flags" that indicated there might be a problem, and his campaign unveiled a new TV ad that shows a news article from Bush's first year in office warning of a flu vaccine shortage, as an announcer calls the current vaccine squeeze "a George Bush mess."

Speaking to a town meeting in the high school gym in Xenia, Ohio, Kerry described Bush's strategy as: "Deny it, pretend it's not there, and then try to hide it. When it comes out, act surprised -- `Oh my gosh, how did this happen to us?' "

The Democrat faulted Bush for his reluctance to acknowledge mistakes. "This guy is never in doubt but frequently in error," Kerry said. "This has been the zero-accountability administration."

During the last debate with Kerry, Bush blamed the flu shotshortage on the manufacturer for producing contaminated vaccine at its British factory.

The Iraq funding vote came after Kerry, in a procedural vote, agreed to authorize the use of force in the country, the president noted.

Kerry has defended his final vote on the spending bill, saying he fully backed the troops but wanted to voice a protest that much of the reconstruction money -- roughly $20 billion of the total -- might be mismanaged by the administration and end up in the pockets of American companies, such as Halliburton Corp., the Texas-based company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Halliburton and its construction subsidiary KBR were subsequently awarded no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars and are the subject of multiple inquiries for alleged cost overruns.

A Newsweek poll yesterday showed that the race continued to be a near-dead-heat with more than two weeks left before the election, but Bush's lead widened when the poll was confined to likely voters.

In a three-way race with independent Ralph Nader included, Bush led 48 percent to 46 percent for Kerry among all voters, while Nader drew 1 percent. Bush led 48 percent to 47 percent without Nader in the equation. Before the debates began Sept. 30, Bush led by 11 points.

When only likely voters were included, Bush led 50 percent to 44 percent. However, Kerry led Bush 57 percent to 36 percent among those who identified themselves as first-time voters, the magazine said. That suggests that turnout will be crucial to the election's outcome.

In remarks heavily focused on foreign policy and its consequences, Bush stumbled over the question of whether the military draft should be reinstituted: "After the debates, I made it very plain, we will not have an all-volunteer army ... and yet this week ... we will have an all-volunteer army. Let me restate that. We will not have a draft."

He also spoke again of Kerry's "global test." The senator used that term in describing efforts to garner international support for a war, but Bush has used it to accuse Kerry of wanting to turn national security decisions over to other countries. Kerry has actually said the opposite -- that he would never given foreign countries veto power over American foreign policy.

"If the senator had his way, not only would Saddam Hussein be still sitting in a palace in Baghdad, he'd be occupying Kuwait," Bush said.

Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, said the campaign was redoubling its efforts to court Jewish voters in the final phase of the campaign, and the president, in his speech here, said he had just signed a new law requiring the government to keep tabs on anti-Semitic acts around the globe. His State Department had opposed passage of the law as unnecessary.

Stumping in Xenia, Kerry was introduced by Mike Adams, a recently laid-off factory worker who called him "our greatest hope for the future." Kerry said the Ohioan's story was an example of "the great truth gap between what this administration tells you and what's really happening."

Kerry renewed his criticism of Treasury Secretary John W. Snow for telling a group of Republicans here last week that calling Bush the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net job loss was "a myth."

"On November 2, every single one of you has an opportunity to go out and show this administration we're not going to be `snowed' anymore," Kerry said.

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