Candidates focus on key states in Midwest

Bush reflects on 9/11

Kerry cheers Red Sox, appears with Springsteen

October 29, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MADISON, Wis. - John Kerry rallied throngs of supporters here yesterday alongside rock legend Bruce Springsteen, working to stoke enthusiasm among voters restless for a change in leadership, as President Bush presented himself to campaign crowds as a steady and war-tested commander in chief.

Approaching the end of their campaigns, Bush and Kerry were trying to strike more personal chords as undecided voters make up their minds.

Kerry, who has struggled to shed his patrician image, donned a baseball cap to cheer the World Series victory of his hometown Boston Red Sox and barnstormed battleground states rocking to the strains of "The Boss," a working-class favorite.

"I may be running for president," Kerry said before a crowd of more than 80,000 stretching up Washington Boulevard to the state Capitol. "But we all know who the real Boss is."

A more subdued Bush, in a lengthy and at times deeply personal speech in Saginaw, Mich., spoke of how the Sept. 11 attacks shaped his presidency.

"I've learned to expect the unexpected," Bush told supporters, many of whom had begun lining up in the cold at 4 a.m. to see him. "History can deliver sudden horror from a soft autumn sky. I found you better know what you believe, or risk being tossed to and fro from the flattery of friends or the chorus of the critics."

The candidates, struggling for advantage in fewer than a dozen battleground states, where polls indicate they are virtually tied, were preparing to point to clear differences between their leadership styles five days before voters go to the polls.

Kerry continued to criticize Bush for failing to take responsibility for the disappearance of a 380-ton cache of powerful explosives from a military installation south of Baghdad, Iraq.

"The president's shifting explanations and excuses and attacks on me demonstrate once again that this president believes the buck stops everywhere but with the president of the United States," Kerry said.

Last night, a videotape shot by a Minnesota television news crew embedded with U.S. troops showed huge amounts of explosives stored at the installation on April 18 last year. It was unclear whether the pictures in the video were the high explosives that are now missing or other munitions.

The surfacing of the video, which was receiving heavy play on cable television last night, could undercut Bush's claim in recent days that the explosives may have disappeared before U.S. forces were responsible for them and that Kerry was "attacking the actions of our military in Iraq, with complete disregard for the facts."

In another twist, the Bush campaign admitted doctoring a photograph in an ad by electronically copying a group of soldiers listening to the president speak.

Kerry continued to repeat his theme that voters should hold Bush accountable for weakening the nation through mistakes in his economic policy and in his stewardship of the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism. He plans to go into more detail in a speech today in Orlando.

The Democrat is telling voters that they face a clear choice between keeping a president who favors wealthy people and powerful interests, and runs an arrogant foreign policy, and choosing Kerry to be a champion for the middle class and a builder of global alliances who can better protect the nation.

Mike McCurry, a senior Kerry campaign adviser, said today might be Kerry's "last chance to give a fully substantive speech before we launch into rally after rally." He said Kerry will use the opportunity to drive home "the argument about change of direction for America and the world, and what we do to make us stronger."

Bush plans to focus on character differences between him and Kerry. Nicolle Devenish, the campaign's communications director, said the president has begun his "closing arguments" to contrast his style with his opponent's and talk "about differences in how they lead and what they're made of."

This morning, Bush plans to reflect in a speech in New Hampshire on his term in office, the people he has met and what he has learned. Yesterday in Saginaw, Bush offered an intimate picture of his approach to leadership then launched a harsh attack on Kerry's style.

"I have been strengthened by my faith and humbled by its reminder that my life is part of a much bigger story," he said. "I've learned firsthand how hard it is to send young men and women into battle, even when the cause is right."

Bush said Kerry has run a "campaign of contradictions" and taken different positions on Iraq depending on the polls.

Kerry, buoyant after the Red Sox win Wednesday night, cast his nearly two-year-long candidacy, full of highs and lows, as a fitting parallel to the star-crossed baseball team's 86-year wait for victory.

"It's a great American story, and it gives us all a good feeling," Kerry said at the University of Toledo, waving his Red Sox cap in the air. "They're a team with heart, because we are a country with heart, and we're going to show it to the world."

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