Bush Portrays Kerry As a Waffler
By SCOTT LINDLAW
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 24, 2004; 6:31 AM
WASHINGTON - President Bush, casting aside his desire to appear above the political fray, struck back at his Democratic critics, portraying presidential front-runner John Kerry as a waffler and warning that Democrats would raise taxes, expand government and fail to lead decisively on national security.
Bush had hung back for months, despite constant pummeling by the Democratic presidential candidates. But he leveled his sharpest criticism yet at his rivals in a speech Monday night. Bush recalled terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, signaling his willingness to use the strikes for political gain, which his aides long had promised would not be done.
"September the 14th, 2001, I stood in the ruins of the Twin Towers. I remember a lot that day," Bush told 1,400 Republican donors at a fund-raiser for GOP governors, recalling his trip to New York after the attacks.
"As we all did that day, these men and women searching through the rubble took it personally. I took it personally," he said. "I have a responsibility that goes on. I will never relent in bringing justice to our enemies. I will defend America, whatever it takes."
Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, found himself fending off both Bush and his chief rival, fellow Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, heading into nominating contests Tuesday in Hawaii, Idaho and Utah.
But both Democratic rivals are looking ahead to the 10 states, California and New York among them, with nominating contests on March 2, also known as Super Tuesday, where Kerry hopes to knock off Edwards.
Kerry will spend more than $1 million this week - nearly five times as much as Edwards - to run campaign ads in media markets in Ohio, Georgia and New York, which vote March 2, aides said. Edwards has bought about $270,000 of ad time in those states thus far.
Bush, meanwhile, has prepared ads for an advertising onslaught that is to start March 4. His re-election campaign will buy airtime over the next two weeks in selected broadcast markets and nationally on cable stations, including CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, according to a Bush-Cheney campaign source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Edwards was campaigning Tuesday in Atlanta with Georgia lawmakers, before heading to Houston for a rally. Kerry was in Ohio, touring a closed steel mill with laid-off workers and talking with workers at a revitalized factory.
In his 40-minute address, Bush mentioned none of the Democratic presidential candidates by name, but some of his sharpest criticism was unmistakably intended for Kerry.
"The other party's nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions," Bush said. "They're for tax cuts and against them. They're for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They're for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They're in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts." His supportive audience erupted in laughter and applause.
Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter disputed Bush's list of purported flip-flops. Kerry opposed Bush's tax cuts for the richest Americans and stands by that; voted for NAFTA and stands by it; voted for the Patriot Act, but believes the Justice Department is using it to trample civil liberties; and stands by his vote to authorize force in Iraq, but believes Bush's prosecution of the war "created a breeding ground for terror" and alienated allies, Cutter said.
Edwards denounced Bush's new rhetoric. "The American people want this campaign to be about the future, not the past," he said. "We offer leadership and hope, the Republicans want to exploit fears and relitigate the past."
Bush said the Nov. 2 election presents "a choice between keeping the tax relief that is moving this economy forward, or putting the burden of higher taxes back on the American people."
"It's a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence, or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger," he said.
Kerry said Bush sounded as if the past three and a half years had never happened.
"But the American people haven't forgotten this president's failed record, because they have to live with it every day," he said in a statement. "George Bush's credibility is running out with the American people. They want change in America, and I'm running because I am determined to bring that change and put America back on track."
Earlier Monday, Bush tried to shrug off such criticism as election-year posturing. "It's going to be the year of the sharp elbow and the quick tongue," he told governors of both parties at the White House.
© 2004 The Associated Press