Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, a little weary from a late night of baseball-watching and an early morning of goose hunting, turned his attention to scientific research and innovation today, telling an audience in Ohio that he would be "a president who believes in science" and criticizing President Bush as beholden to ideologues and special interests.
Bush, campaigning in Pennsylvania meanwhile, emphasized health care and medical liability reform. In advance of speeches in Downington and Hershey, Pa., his campaign went on the attack against Kerry's health care plan, calling it too expensive and charging that it would put millions of Americans into a "government-run" program, a characterization that Kerry has denied.
As the candidates fanned out in battleground states -- Vice President Cheney scheduled appearances in Ohio and Wisconsin, while Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, was stumping in Iowa -- the Bush and Kerry campaigns sparred over trips to key swing states by Bush administration officials, flu vaccines and a remark about first lady Laura Bush by Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of the Massachusetts senator.
After watching his hometown Boston Red Sox defeat the New York Yankees for the American League pennant last night, Kerry, clad in a camouflage jacket and sporting a 12-gauge shotgun, went hunting at 7 a.m. on a supporter's farm near Boardman, Ohio. He said after the two-hour foray that he and his three companions had each shot a goose.
The outing was intended to counter misgivings about Kerry among gun owners in some swing states, a sentiment that the National Rifle Association has sought to exploit with ads denouncing Kerry. The senator supported a federal ban on assault weapons that recently expired, and he has criticized Bush for failing to push for its renewal.
In a speech in Columbus, Ohio, today, Kerry urged an expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He appeared with the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, who died last week at age 52 after spending the last nine years paralyzed from a horse-riding accident.
Reeve had advocated loosening restrictions on stem cell research as part of his quest for a cure for spinal cord injuries, and his widow, Dana Reeve, has announced her support for Kerry.
President Bush, concerned about the ethics of using embryos for stem cell research, announced federal funding in 2001 for stem cell lines that already existed, but barred it for lines produced after his executive order. Scientists have said that as a result, there are too few embryonic stem cell lines -- no more than 21 -- to make meaningful advances, and they are all contaminated with mouse cells.
In introducing Kerry and urging people to vote for him, Dana Reeve said her husband had remained full of hope despite his disability. "He imagined living in a world where politics would never get in the way of hope," she said.
Kerry said, "When I'm president, we will change this policy, and we will lead the world in stem cell research."
The Kerry campaign says Bush's policy effectively bans federal funding for more than 99 percent of stem cell lines.
"There is no issue more fundamental to creating the good jobs of the future, curing disease, making America independent of Mideast oil, and educating the next generation of scientists than our investments in science and innovation," Kerry said in his prepared remarks. "As president, I will make science and technology a priority once again."
Bush "is so beholden" to special interests and social conservatives "that he refuses to make the kinds of investments that benefit our common interests," Kerry charged.
"You get the feeling that if George Bush had been president during other periods in American history, he would have sided with the candle lobby against electricity, the buggy-makers against cars, and typewriter companies against computers," he said.
"By blocking stem cell research, President Bush has sacrificed science to ideology," Kerry said.
In a speech to supporters in Chester County, Pa., Bush touted a plan to reform health care in a second term, vowing to take "five practical steps to make health care more affordable and accessible in America." He said he would expand health savings accounts for individuals, promote association health plans that allow small businesses to jointly buy insurance for their employees at a discount, push through medical liability reform, apply information technology to the medical system and move cheaper generic drugs to the market more rapidly.
"America faces a clear choice," Bush said. "When it comes to health care, Senator Kerry's prescription is bigger government with higher costs. My reforms will lower costs and give more control and choices to the American people."
He charged that Kerry's plan "would expand the government health care rolls by nearly 22 million Americans" and create "the largest expansion of government health care in American history." Medicaid would grow so large under Kerry's plan that employers "would have the incentive to drop private coverage so the government would pick up the insurance tab for their employees," Bush said.
Kerry and independent fact-checkers have disputed Bush's description of the senator's proposal as a government plan, saying it builds on the existing private system. According to the Lewin Group, an impartial health care research firm, 97 percent of Americans who now have health insurance would keep their existing plan under Kerry's proposal.
In Iowa, Edwards chided the Bush administration today for dispatching national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior officials to presidential battleground states in recent weeks, Washington Post staff writer John Wagner reported.
"Who's minding the store? I mean really," Edwards said during a morning rally in the southeastern Iowa town of Muscatine. "There's a solution to that problem, and that solution in America is called Election Day."
Earlier, he released a statement denouncing trips by Rice and other executive branch officials as "political activity" that takes them away from their real jobs.
"There's a problem when our troops are in harm's way, fighting for a secure Iraq, and our national security adviser is out on the stump campaigning instead of working," Edwards said. "There's a problem when the vice president is warning of a nuclear attack and the homeland security secretary, who has declared that he is separate from politics, spends the bulk of his time traveling battleground states. . . . There's a problem when the economy has lost 800,000 jobs and the treasury secretary is out on the stump calling these losses a myth instead of focusing on bringing them back."
Edwards was referring to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Treasury Secretary John W. Snow. He also criticized what he described as political trips by the secretary of health and human services, Tommy G. Thompson, and the secretary of commerce, Donald L. Evans.
He said in the statement that on Nov. 2, "we're going to nip this problem in the bud."
In his stump speech in Muscatine, Edwards said Thompson's trips were troublesome because he should be working on the nation's shortage of flu vaccines.
Recriminations over the flu vaccine shortages mounted today after the Kerry campaign admonished Cheney and other leading Republicans for getting flu shots while millions of Americans went without them. "The very week that Secretary Thompson is telling Americans to keep calm, Dick Cheney, John Snow and [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist are getting flu shots," the campaign said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the Bush administration failed to do the work necessary to ensure that all Americans, including those most at risk, had been able to get shots as well."
Interviewed on the Fox News Channel this morning, Frist (R-Tenn.) said the production of flu vaccine is a "very unpredictable" and "risky" business and that the shortage should not be blamed on the administration. He said he got his own shot before the extent of the shortage became known. Spokesmen for Cheney, 63, said he was vaccinated because of his age and his history of heart attacks.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a separate interview on Fox News that criticism of Cheney was "ridiculous, because, you know, you would think that you would want your top people to be cared for with regard to the flu." Hatch also said that "the reason we don't have enough vaccines in this country is because of litigation," with vaccine companies fearing lawsuits.
Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," Mary Matalin, a Bush-Cheney campaign adviser, said that "we accept the apology" that Heinz Kerry issued yesterday after having suggested in an interview that Laura Bush had never held a "real job." Heinz Kerry said she had forgotten that the first lady had worked as a teacher and librarian for a decade. But Matalin added, "We continue to find it somewhat strange that she [Heinz Kerry] omitted being a mom as a job."
Matalin said, "And it's up to the voters to decide if Teresa Heinz Kerry has always comported herself of that decorum with which we associate with the office." She called the wealthy Mozambican-born heiress "a sassy, opinionated, wonderful woman" and said, "I would love to go have a martini with her."
Laura Bush said today that Heinz Kerry's comment did not hurt her feelings and that she was satisfied with the apology.
"It was perfectly all right," the first lady told reporters while campaigning in New Hampshire. "She apologized, and she didn't even really need to apologize."
She expressed some sympathy for Heinz Kerry, adding, "I know how tough it is. Actually, I know those trick questions, too."