Candidates gear up for whirlwind final week

Kerry appeals to base with speech on values

Bush stumps on day off

Elections 2004

8 Days Until Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 2

October 25, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Sen. John Kerry worked to give undecided voters a more personal look at him while stoking his base supporters here yesterday, attending church services with a black congregation before delivering a speech on his faith and values.

With the list of competitive states in the presidential race down to about a dozen and national polls showing President Bush and Kerry tied, both candidates prepared for a whirlwind last week of campaigning, complete with eye-popping rallies in battleground states and media blitzes aimed at reaching millions of voters just before they go to the polls.

Bush, who opted yesterday for a light day of campaigning, made one stop in Alamogordo, N.M., in the southern part of the battleground state where polls show the race even.

"It's good to be in country where the cowboy hats outnumber the ties," Bush told a small but exuberant crowd outside a high school in the picturesque New Mexico desert.

The president went on to hammer Kerry, saying that the Massachusetts Democrat could not effectively lead the war on terrorism and does not understand that if U.S. forces were not battling terrorists in Iraq, they would be fighting them elsewhere.

The president, in the first of a series of nationally televised interviews that his campaign has scheduled to increase exposure leading up to Election Day, told Fox News' Sean Hannity that America's safety is "up in the air."

"Whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up - you know, is up in the air," Bush told Hannity in an interview scheduled to be shown tonight on Hannity and Colmes, according to an advance transcript. "I would hope we could make it a lot more safe by staying on the offensive."

Bush projected confidence in his standing in the presidential race, saying: "I know I'm going to win, and I operate under that belief, and I'm going to win."

But Kerry, who aides said also plans a series of high-profile interviews this week, said Bush's comments prove that he does not know how to make the country safe.

"You make me president of the United States, we're going to win the war on terror. It's not going to be `up in the air' whether or not we make America safe," Kerry told supporters at a twilight rally on a lawn bordered by palm trees at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Bush aides said they welcome a conversation on the war on terrorism, which has been Bush's strength with voters, in the waning days of the campaign.

"This is a debate we are more than eager to have," Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, told reporters in New Mexico.

Kerry is hoping to boost his image and remind undecided voters of the good economic times they enjoyed the last time a Democrat was in the White House, with a joint appearance scheduled today in Philadelphia with former President Bill Clinton.

Bush and Kerry are focusing on a small but distinct battleground as the race enters its final days, according to advisers to both candidates. The states include Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio - states that Bush won in 2000 - and Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - states that went to Democrat Al Gore.

Kerry will be focusing particularly closely on Florida and Ohio, which polls show are tied, with stops also planned in the coming days in New Hampshire, which is leaning in the senator's favor, and Nevada, which favors Bush. Kerry has scrapped a visit to Colorado, where surveys show the president has the lead.

Bush is eyeing Florida and Ohio, too, but he also is seeking to pick off Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Aides have mapped a tentative campaign strategy that takes him frequently to Florida and then north to states that conveniently form a line across the Midwest.

Officials said Bush might not return to Nevada and New Hampshire because the states have relatively few electoral votes and are not within proximity to other swing states. But they emphasized that the schedule can always change.

The president said yesterday that observers who believe only a few states, like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, will decide the election are mistaken. "I wouldn't discount Michigan," Bush said in an interview with ABC News yesterday from his ranch that will be aired by the network today. "I wouldn't discount the influence of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico," Bush said. "I think this race is a non-predictable race. I think people like to boil it down to one or two states. I think you're gonna find there's a lot of interesting states ... not considered to be in play."

Kerry on religion

Yesterday, Kerry delivered a speech that contained his most probing discussion to date of his beliefs and how they relate to his domestic agenda. The senator, a Roman Catholic who has taken fire from bishops for his support for abortion rights and stem cell research, said he does not believe that religion should dictate policy decisions.

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