PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — President Bush promoted his economic successes in this hard-luck coal mining region Sunday, saying his tax cuts have helped create 1.7 million new jobs in the last year and brought West Virginia's unemployment rate below the national average.
Spending his second Sunday in a row in this battleground state, Bush also accused Democratic opponent Sen. John F. Kerry of wanting to raise taxes on small businesses, which the president said were a large part of the top income tax bracket.
"This Labor Day weekend, it's important for America's workers to know that my opponent wants to tax your job," Bush said. "His plan to raise taxes on those at the top end of the income tax scale will raise taxes for the 900,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs who pay at the individual rate and who are creating most of the new jobs in our changing economy."
Kerry, who took a break from the campaign trail Sunday to celebrate his daughter Alexandra's 31st birthday in Pittsburgh, did not address Bush's charges. But his campaign struck back immediately, saying the president was misrepresenting the data and that most small-business owners did not fall into the top brackets. They also said Kerry plans new tax breaks for small businesses that create jobs or offer healthcare benefits to employees.
"George Bush's misleading definition of small business includes both himself and Dick Cheney, but they certainly haven't created any new jobs over the last four years," said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer. "If voters think that giving Dick Cheney a tax cut is the best way to create jobs, they should vote for George Bush. But if they want a plan that cuts taxes for small business that create jobs or offer health insurance, they should vote for John Kerry."
Meanwhile, as fellow Democrats fretted openly about the state of Kerry's campaign, the senator had a long telephone conversation with former President Clinton on Saturday night. The two discussed hammering out a campaign message based on Bush's record on jobs, healthcare and other issues, the New York Times reported on its website Sunday night.
Kerry shook up the internal dynamic of his organization Sunday, recruiting longtime friend John Sasso to accompany him on the road as a senior advisor. Sasso, who ran Michael S. Dukakis' 1988 presidential bid and had been working as the general election manager at the Democratic National Committee, will begin traveling with Kerry today.
Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton White House press secretary who recently came aboard to revamp campaign communications, cast the moves as part of an effort to beef up for the fall.
The changes reflect a turn by Kerry to familiar faces from Massachusetts politics to help him navigate the final weeks, and the growing influence of former Clinton aides on the campaign.
Kerry also sought Sunday to open a new line of attack on the Bush administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia. In a statement released by the campaign, the candidate cited a charge made by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) in a new book that says the White House and the FBI prevented Congress from investigating possible ties between the Saudi government and the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Kerry said that such an act "would be a massive abuse of power."
"We need an independent investigation into these allegations immediately to determine if the very agencies charged with investigating the war on terror have been compromised by White House politics," he said in the statement.
In his book, "Intelligence Matters," which is to be released Tuesday, Graham says two Saudis who gave financial support to the hijackers were agents of the government, and that the administration blacked out details about the support from a congressional report, according to an article in the Miami Herald, which obtained an advance copy of the book.
Saudi officials have adamantly denied any connection to the terrorist attacks, and on Sunday Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called Kerry's statement "a flailing attack."
In Parkersburg, Bush didn't comment on the book, but he mentioned Saudi Arabia as one of a number of his administration's foreign policy successes.
"Our strategy is succeeding," the president told a rally of supporters at the Parkersburg High School football stadium. "Four years ago, Afghanistan was the home base of Al Qaeda; Pakistan was a transit point for terrorist groups; Saudi Arabia was a fertile ground for terrorist fundraising; Libya was pursuing nuclear weapons; Iraq was a gathering threat; and Al Qaeda was largely unchallenged as it planned attacks. Now, because we acted, the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror; Pakistan is capturing terrorists; Saudi Arabia is making raids and arrests; Libya is dismantling its weapons program; the army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom; and more than three-quarters of Al Qaeda's key members and associates have been brought to justice."