San Diego Union Tribune

October 2, 2004

2004 VOTE
Bush, Kerry turn up rhetoric
Candidates hit battleground states after first of three debates

By Finlay Lewis
and Otto Kreisher

MANCHESTER, N.H. – A day after their first debate, President Bush and John Kerry intensified their attacks on each other yesterday, as Kerry targeted the president's domestic policies and Bush continued to question his rival's fitness to serve as commander in chief.

Campaigning in separate battleground states, the candidates painted sharply different pictures of the previous night's clash over Iraq, while Kerry also focused on the economic, environmental and health care issues expected to dominate the two remaining debates.

In Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, Bush ridiculed Kerry's plan to win the war in Iraq with a summit of foreign leaders, saying he never saw a meeting that "deposed a tyrant or brought a terrorist to justice."

The president also derided Kerry's suggestion that the United States should pass a global test in waging the war on terrorism.

"I will never submit America's national security to an international test," he said in Allentown, Pa. "The use of troops to defend America must never be subjected to a veto by countries like France." He skipped that line in New Hampshire, which has a large French-Canadian population.

Bush mocked Kerry for claiming he made a mistake in his explanation of why he voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, then voted against an $87 billion supplemental budget for Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The mistake wasn't what Sen. Kerry said; the mistake was what Sen. Kerry did," Bush said.

"When America puts her troops in harm's way, I believe they deserve the best training, the best equipment and the whole-hearted support of our government," he added. "My opponent last night said they deserve better. They certainly deserve better than they got from Sen. Kerry when he voted to send them to war, then voted against funding our troops in combat."

Kerry had voted for alternative legislation that would have paid for the war funding by repealing Bush's upper-income tax cuts.

In Florida, Kerry said Bush uses "Orwellian" rhetoric by using pleasant-sounding names to disguise harmful policies.

"This is part of the Bush administration's fiction. They think they can fool you all of the time," the Massachusetts senator said. "Here we are. This administration has a clear-skies initiative, but it makes the air dirtier than it used to be. This administration has a healthy-forest initiative, but it's healthy because they cut down the trees. That's the policy."

With the remaining debates likely to focus on domestic issues, Kerry will replace his heavy dose of Iraq-related ads with commercials about health care, jobs and energy independence in some of the most contested states in the election. Senior advisers say Kerry himself will continue to stoke anti-Iraq war sentiment, but will leave it to independent, pro-Kerry groups to drive that message home on television.

Florida, a state that Bush won four years ago after a contested recount by fewer than 600 votes, has emerged as a critical battleground this year. However, it has been largely inaccessible to Kerry because of a spate of recent hurricanes.

Thursday's debate was watched by more than 62.5 million people, the biggest audience in 12 years and a 34 percent increase over that for the first presidential debate in 2000.

Instant polls Thursday night suggested that TV viewers nationally thought Kerry won the opening debate, a notion Kerry campaign insiders celebrated cautiously yesterday. The Bush campaign downplayed the poll results, but Republicans generally conceded that the victory went to Kerry.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who traveled with Bush throughout the day, sought to shore up the president, but got off to an unusual start as Bush boarded Air Force One in Miami en route to Pennsylvania.

Speaking to reporters on the tarmac about how his friend Kerry performed in the debate, McCain said: "He presented himself well, John did. Kerry came out slugging. In the last six weeks, it was probably his brightest moment."

In a sign that the Bush campaign suddenly found itself on the defensive, the president's media-shy chief political adviser, Karl Rove, sought out reporters to argue that Kerry was a walking contradiction Thursday night and that Bush had been focused and pensive, not peevish, during the debate.

"That wasn't irritated," Rove said. "I know irritated."

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee was preparing an ad showing Bush looking annoyed and exasperated during the contest.

Kerry stumped in Tampa and Orlando with fresh momentum after the debate at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. The positive reviews of Kerry's performance were a welcome development for the campaign, given recent voter surveys showing that the president has opened modest leads nationally and in key battleground states since Labor Day.

Top Kerry aides seemed eager to downplay expectations that the first debate might dramatically change the race's complexion overnight.

Talking to reporters on the short flight to Tampa from Miami, Michael McCurry, a top Kerry adviser, said, "These debates do not change the fundamental horse-race numbers because it's only opening up a conversation that we're now beginning."

On Tuesday, Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, will debate Vice President Dick Cheney in Cleveland. Kerry and Bush face off again Friday in St. Louis and hold their final debate Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz.

In his Tampa appearance, Kerry reiterated his assertion Thursday that Bush erred in launching military action against Iraq "without a plan to win the peace."

However, he focused mainly on domestic issues, which Democrats believe are serious vulnerabilities for the president.

McCurry said that as the campaign nears its conclusion, Kerry will link foreign and domestic issues by charging the Bush administration with consistently harming the nation's interests by making "the wrong choices" in both areas.
Knight Ridder News Service and The New York Times News Service contributed to this report.

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