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Bush, Kerry Home Remarks on Iraq

The candidates trade barbs on the campaign trail as they prepare for first presidential debate. New attack ads highlight differences on the war.

September 28, 2004|Michael Finnegan and Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writers

SPRING GREEN, Wis. — Taking time out from debate rehearsals, President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry sparred Monday over Iraq at campaign stops in the Midwest and in a fierce new round of television ads on the war.

The sharpened attacks on national security came three days before Bush and his Democratic challenger face off in a televised debate that will focus on foreign affairs. Foreshadowing their likely approaches to the debate in Miami, each candidate sought to undermine voter confidence in the other man's capacity to lead a nation under threat of terrorist attack.

Speaking after a weekend of debate rehearsals at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president told supporters in Springfield, Ohio, "It's been a little tough to prepare" against Kerry "because he keeps changing his positions on the war on terror."

"He voted for the use of force in Iraq, and then didn't vote to fund the troops. He complained that we're not spending enough money to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, and now he's saying we're spending too much. He said it was the right decision to go into Iraq. Now he calls it the wrong war."

Playing off the crowd's laughter and cheers, Bush joked that Kerry "probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself."

The Massachusetts senator was equally aggressive in challenging Bush's handling of the Iraq war as he campaigned here in rural southern Wisconsin. He denied shifting stands on the war, saying he believed "we ought to stand up and hold Saddam Hussein accountable." But, Kerry said, "doing it the right way means having the patience and the maturity to bring allies by our side."

Kerry went on to castigate Bush for his failure to avert looting, violence and other aspects of the Iraqi insurgency.

"You have 14-hour blackouts in Baghdad," he said. "You've got raw sewage coming up to the hubcaps of Humvees in places people are driving through."

Surrounded by several hundred supporters in a junior high school gymnasium, Kerry said Bush bowed to "ideologues" who said Iraqis would greet U.S. troops as liberators.

Kerry went on to invoke remarks by Bush's father about the former president's decision not to invade Baghdad at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"His father said, 'You know why I didn't go in there? Because there's no viable exit strategy,' " Kerry said. "And his father said that it's a hostile territory, and our people would be bogged down. I mean listen, folks, we need a president with good judgment."

The campaign stop was a few miles from the golf resort where Kerry is preparing for Thursday's presidential debate, the first of three.

In the afternoon, Kerry met at his hotel, the House on the Rock Resort, with foreign policy advisors Rand Beers and Susan Rice, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and media strategist Bob Shrum, along with advisors John Sasso, Ron Klain and Greg Craig, who played Bush in debate rehearsals.

Bush, meanwhile, was greeted by an afternoon crowd in West Chester, near Cincinnati, estimated at 35,000.

Monday marked Bush's 26th visit to Ohio, and he plans to return to the battleground state Saturday. Ohio is considered a must-win for the president; no Republican has been elected to the White House without carrying the state.

Kerry and Bush each released television attack ads that echoed their public remarks. The ads are to be broadcast in battleground states.

The Bush spot features video snippets of Kerry statements on the Iraq war. Among them: "It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the president made the decision I supported him," and "It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

The ad concludes with a question that flashes on screen: "How can John Kerry protect us when he doesn't even know where he stands?"

The Kerry campaign accused the president of taking the senator's quotes out of context, then released a response: an anti-Bush ad showing Iraq war scenes.

"Over 1,000 U.S. soldiers dead, kidnappings, even beheadings of Americans," an announcer says as images of Iraq street battles and a car engulfed in flames fill the screen. "Still Bush has no plan what to do in Iraq. How can you solve a problem when you can't see it?"

Top surrogates for both candidates also went on the attack Monday. In Washington, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) accused Bush of increasing the danger of a "nuclear 9/11" by shifting attention away from Al Qaeda to the invasion of Iraq.

"I thank God that President Bush was not our president at the time of the Cuban missile crisis," Kennedy said in prepared remarks for a speech at George Washington University.

"The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely."

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign dispatched former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to remote Spring Green to question Kerry's national security credentials.

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