WASHINGTON — Rudolph W. Giuliani has accused the entire Democratic establishment of being soft on terrorism, prompting Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards to accuse the former New York mayor Wednesday of sullying his Sept. 11 legacy.
Obama accused Giuliani of exploiting the "politics of fear" while Edwards slammed him for being "divisive and plain wrong." Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in January exhorted Democrats to "deck" anyone who attacked them, sidestepped a direct confrontation.
On Tuesday, Giuliani said in New Hampshire that Republicans were best equipped to deal with terrorism threats and Democrats would endanger the country by "going on defense."
He went further Wednesday with a fierce Democrat-baiting attack reminiscent of his City Hall combativeness.
"Here is the thing that the Democrats do not get ... and the presidential candidates indicate, they do not seem to get, the fact that there are people, terrorists in this world, really dangerous people that want to come here and kill us," he told Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity.
The terrorists, he added, "got away [with Sept. 11] because we were on defense, because we weren't alert enough to the dangers and the risks.... They want to take us back to not being as alert."
Giuliani, who delighted in jabbing his Democratic opponents as mayor, spurred a spirited counterattack.
"Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low," Obama said in statement Wednesday. "America's mayor should know that when it comes to 9/11 and fighting terrorists, America is united."
Said Edwards: "That's not the kind of leadership he offered in the days immediately after 9/11, and it's not the kind of leadership any American should be offering now."
Clinton was far more restrained, initially directing her criticism at President Bush, not Giuliani.
"One of the great tragedies of this administration is that the president failed to keep this country unified after 9/11," she said in a statement that didn't refer to Giuliani by name.
Later, on Capitol Hill, reporters asked her to comment directly on Giuliani.
"I clearly wanted to respond to the comments he made because defending our country and protecting us from terrorism shouldn't be a political football," she said. "It should be a solemn responsibility that all of us pledge to fulfill regardless of what party we're in."
In 2004, Bush was reelected after he claimed that Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry would waver in the face of terrorist threats. Vice President Dick Cheney suggested a vote for Kerry would risk another terrorist attack.