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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Democrats Strategize on National Security

June 06, 2004|Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. — Democrats, aware that polls show security as their weakest issue, heard tough denunciations of President Bush's military policies Saturday in a hearing to work on the party's platform for the presidential campaign.

Inadequate supplies, training and personnel, lack of batteries in Iraq for vital gear such as night-vision goggles and big policy miscalculations were typical of the mixed bag of charges that speakers inside and outside the military laid against the Republicans.

"There wasn't a plan," Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war veteran, told the panel of prominent Democrats hearing testimony on national security. "They left us to make one up. My 19-year-old machine-gunner is not the best person to interpret foreign policy on a street corner of Baghdad."

The Democrats are presumed vulnerable on national security, with Republican heat coming from the president down. In the last week, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Bush's likely opponent in November, has lashed back. He has accused Bush of instituting a "backdoor draft" by forcing soldiers to stay in Iraq past their scheduled times to leave and of stretching military resources too thin.

That stern language was echoed Saturday in a Democratic National Committee Platform Drafting Committee hearing at Louisiana State University, one of five such hearings being held in cities around the country before the Democrats' Boston convention in July.

The hearings are being held in what are judged to be critical swing states: Oregon; New Mexico; Ohio; Florida; and Louisiana, where Kerry still trails Bush although he is moving up in polls.

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