Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Candidates Question Each Other's Leadership
Candidates Question Each Other's Leadership

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2004; 3:37 PM

Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, campaigning in the potentially crucial state of Iowa, charged today that the administration has failed to ensure the country's safety, and he questioned the leadership of President Bush, who was stumping about 80 miles away.

"This president likes to say he's a leader," Kerry said in a speech in Waterloo, Iowa, on national security. "Mr. President, look behind you. There's no one there. It's not leadership if no one follows."

Bush, in a campaign speech at the same time in Mason City, Iowa, struck the familiar themes of his standard stump speech, portraying the economy as steadily improving and branding Kerry as a "liberal" who would raise Americans' taxes.

"This economy is moving forward, and we're not going to go back to the days of tax and spend," Bush said. He asserted that despite Kerry's insistence that his plan would raise taxes only on Americans earning more than $200,000 a year, "there is a gap between what he has promised and what he can deliver," a gap that would inevitably be filled with more tax hikes.

"The good news is we're not going to let him tax you," Bush declared. "We're going to carry Iowa and win in November."

Bush also lit into Kerry on national security, describing his opponent's views on the war in Iraq as misguided.

A Kerry aide announced today that former president Bill Clinton, who is recovering from heart surgery, plans to hit the campaign trail on behalf of Kerry, appearing with the senator at a rally in Philadelphia Monday. Clinton, 58, underwent quadruple bypass surgery Sept. 6, derailing plans for him to take a more active role in helping Kerry.

The Kerry campaign hopes to use Clinton's appearance to generate wide national media coverage to remind voters of the economic prosperity of 1990s, as well as to rally the Democratic Party's core supporters, among whom Clinton remains highly popular, Washington Post staff writer Lois Romano reported.

It was no coincidence that the candidates were both in Iowa today. Although the state has voted Democratic in the past four presidential elections, Al Gore narrowly won Iowa in 2000 by about 4,000 votes, and Republicans feel they have a chance to break their losing streak this year. The latest statewide polls show the race in Iowa to be a statistical tie, and high voter turnout is expected on Election Day, Nov. 2.

With only seven electoral votes, the state is not much of a prize compared to more populous swing states, but those votes could determine the election if the race is anything like the 2000 contest, or as close as national polls indicate.

According to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll conducted Oct. 16-18, Bush and Kerry are tied at 48 percent, with 3 percent undecided and independent candidate Ralph Nader drawing 1 percent.

A Reuters/Zogby International tracking poll issued today showed Bush and Kerry deadlocked at 46 percent, followed distantly by Nader at 1.2 percent.

The latest Washington Post tracking poll shows Bush leading Kerry by 51 percent to 46 percent, with Nader at 1 percent.

As the president and the challenger stumped in Iowa, the Kerry campaign opened a new line of attack, criticizing national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for her recent and planned speeches across the country in key battleground states. In recent weeks she has defended Bush administration national security policies against unnamed critics in speeches in Oregon, Washington, North Carolina and Ohio. In the next five days, she also plans to speak in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida.

The Kerry campaign called the appearances "an unprecedented series of campaign speeches in key battleground states" by a national security adviser in the final days of the campaign.

Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, said in a statement, "For all its fear mongering on the war on terror, this White House has a greater commitment to its political security than to our national security. The fact is that the violence in Iraq is spiraling out of control, Osama bin Laden remains at large, and North Korea and Iran have increased their nuclear capabilities. With all this going on, Condi Rice shouldn't take the time to go on a campaign trip for George Bush."

Edwards charged that Bush "will go to any length to cling to power, even if it means diverting his national security adviser from doing her job."

In today's speech in Waterloo, Kerry said Bush "has failed -- failed -- to make our country as safe and secure as it ought to be."

America now is fighting "two wars" -- the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq -- and Bush "likes to confuse the two," Kerry said.

"He claims that Iraq is the centerpiece of the war on terror," the senator said. "In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war. . . . It was a profound diversion from the focus on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and the other terrorists that threaten us."

Kerry added, "But now we are fighting two wars, and we will prevail in both."

He charged that Bush's "miscalculations have created a terrorist haven" in Iraq that did not exist before the March 2003 U.S. invasion. Iraq, in fact, was "a diminishing threat," with "no weapons of mass destruction and no programs to produce them," he said.

Kerry said the administration also has been "wrong" to claim that the presence in Iraq before the war of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi proves a connection between al Qaeda and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and validates the rationale that invading the country was part of the war on terrorism.

"In fact, Zarqawi was operating out of a no-man's-land in northeastern Iraq next to territory controlled by America's Kurdish allies, not by Saddam," Kerry said. There, Zarqawi and his allies were trying to make ricin, a biological weapon, he said.

"We could have, but did not, take them out," Kerry said. "That was a terrible mistake that this administration has never explained."

Kerry described Bush as "literally in denial" about evidence in the past couple of weeks that undermines his justification for the war and his insistence that the U.S. military had sufficient troop strength and equipment to manage the occupation of Iraq.

"You can't just be always certain and frequently wrong," Kerry said. "If the president cannot recognize the problems in Iraq, he will not fix them. I do recognize them, and I will fix them."

In his speech in Mason City, a farming community in northern Iowa, Bush said, "The next commander-in-chief must lead us to victory in this war, and you cannot win a war when you don't believe you're fighting one."

He said that in characterizing Iraq as a diversion from the war on terrorism, Kerry "also misunderstands our battle against insurgents and terrorists" in that country. Bush said Kerry's "fundamental misunderstanding of the war" amounts to "very dangerous thinking."

Citing the example of the Jordanian who is the U.S. military's most-wanted man in Iraq, Bush said, "If Zarqawi and his associates were not busy fighting American forces, does Senator Kerry think he would be leading a productive and useful life? Of course not. And that is why Iraq is no diversion."

With Kerry and Bush in Iowa, Edwards embarked on a daylong bus trip in Ohio, where he sought to highlight his ticket's commitment to restoring jobs, Washington Post staff writer John Wagner reported.

"Just to be perfectly blunt about this, it is impossible for me to imagine the people of Ohio are going to vote to rehire a guy as their president that's cost them over 230,000 jobs," Edwards told eight workers during a "roundtable" discussion of economic issues in Canton, where 10.1 percent of residents are unemployed.

Several of the workers were employed by Timken Co., a manufacturer of ball bearings and other steel products that the Kerry campaign has tried to turn into a metaphor for the Bush administration's alleged shortcomings on manufacturing.

Bush visited one of the company's facilities in 2003 and pledged that his tax cuts would create jobs. But this year, Timken announced plans to close three Canton-area plants that employ 1,300 workers.

After his speech in Mason City, Iowa, Bush headed to Minnesota and Wisconsin for campaign appearances.

Vice President Cheney, meanwhile, was in Michigan for meetings with community leaders in the town of Clio, followed by a rally in Traverse City.

Speaking at a diner in Clio outside Flint, Mich., Cheney sought to answer questions about lost jobs with an optimistic recounting of the administration policies on tax cuts and education, Washington Post staff writer Michael Laris reported.

"There's a lot being done. There's always more that needs to be done," Cheney said.

Newsstands carried the day's sour local news. "Pontiac GM plant to lose 900 jobs," read the banner headline in the Detroit Free Press. "GM idles 900 here," read the Detroit News. Inside the diner, Pastor Lonnie William Brown asked Cheney what he would do about "the absence of jobs, which creates the rise in crime, the jobs that are being shipped abroad, the factories that are closing down."

Cheney said the heart of the administration efforts has been taxes. "All together, about 111 million American taxpayers benefited from the changes we made in the tax code," he said.

The vice president also repeated warnings about the grave dangers of a non-conventional attack in America, and he added a twist to his standard attack on Kerry's vote against war funding following his vote authorizing force in Iraq. Cheney quoted three Democratic senators -- Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Carl Levin of Michigan -- as saying that even though they voted against the war, they had voted for the funding to show support for the troops. "But not John Kerry. Not John Kerry," Cheney said.

Cheney sought to temper some of his tougher statements with an description of his faith. He said he believes in the separation of church and state, but opposes efforts to push religion from the public square.

"It's perfectly appropriate for us to recognize a divine being in the course of affairs of this nation," he said.