MILWAUKEE, Oct. 15 -- John F. Kerry charged Friday that there is a "great potential" President Bush will reinstate the military draft if reelected, as the two candidates battled furiously for an edge with voters in Iowa and Wisconsin who are deeply divided over the Iraq war, the economy and their presidential choice.
In comments displayed on the front page of Friday's Des Moines Register, the largest and most influential newspaper in Iowa, Kerry offered scant evidence to support the allegation of an impending draft under Bush. "With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of a draft," Kerry told the newspaper. Michael McCurry, a senior adviser, said Kerry based the charge on concerns relayed by voters, members of Congress and military officials.
John F. Kerry shakes hands with supporters outside the Milwaukee Area Technical College. He visited three cities in the key state of Wisconsin.
(Brian Snyder -- Reuters)
_____Bush in Iowa_____
Transcript: Bush says Kerry fails to grasp the connection between education and jobs during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
_____Kerry in Wisconsin_____
AP Video Report: Kerry attacks Bush on economic issues during a campaign rally in Milwaukee.
The president has said several times that he will not bring back the draft, and all but two members of the House, both Democrats, recently voted against the idea.
Speaking a few hours after Kerry flew out of Iowa in the morning, Bush told voters in Cedar Rapids that "we're modernizing and transforming our United States military so we can keep the all-volunteer army an all-volunteer army."
Yet many college-age voters -- a group Kerry is aggressively targeting for support -- fear the draft will be reinstated during a second Bush term, polls show. Republicans charge that the Democratic candidate's strategy is to stoke those fears. Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman, said Kerry's comment shows he "will do or say anything to get elected."
After leaving Iowa, the two candidates crossed paths -- and verbal swords -- in hotly contested Wisconsin. Kerry capped his day with a rally in Appleton, in the heart of the Fox River Valley, shortly after Bush spoke to supporters 30 miles to the south in Oshkosh, a blue-collar city he lost by a mere 100 votes in 2000.
During a three-stop bus tour starting in Milwaukee, Kerry railed against Bush's economic policies. He said the president is "out of touch" with the millions of Americans struggling to find a job or make ends meet with costs such as health coverage soaring.
Bush sought to cast himself as an innovative reformer pitted against a status quo doctrinaire liberal. He hewed closely to a new stump speech that aides said is designed to draw sharp distinctions with Kerry, particularly on domestic issues.
Both campaigns consider Wisconsin, Iowa and neighboring Minnesota crucial. Modest economic improvements over the past year, unemployment rates lower than the national average and a large number of socially conservative rural voters have enhanced the president's chances of winning these states, all of which Democrat Al Gore won in 2000, according to strategists in both parties and public polling.
Kerry officials say Minnesota is trending their way but concede that Bush is running even or ahead in Iowa and Wisconsin.
The two campaigns have markedly different visions of how to win in this region. Kerry focuses mostly on economic issues in stops in big cities (Des Moines on Thursday, Milwaukee on Friday) and opposition to the war. Bush stresses taxes, social issues and security as he zeros in on rural communities and small towns.
At a technical college in Milwaukee, Kerry said: "Remarkably, the president said he was proud of his record. Proud of millions of Americans unemployed, proud of tens of millions without health insurance, proud of millions of families [facing rising] costs and falling incomes? And this on the day the federal government announced the largest deficit in American history. If that's what he is proud of, I would hate to see what he's ashamed of."
The government announced a record deficit in 2004 of $413 billion, higher than previous estimates. The government also announced it is hitting the $7.4 trillion debt ceiling, another record high.
Kerry pounded away at the president's economic record, frequently returning to the charge that Bush picks the wealthy over the working man every time. "The president has proven time beyond a doubt he's out of touch with American families, out of ideas and unwilling to change course," Kerry said.