Sen. John F. Kerry attacked President Bush on Tuesday for failing to take action to prevent a steep rise in gasoline prices, which hit an average of $2 a gallon this week, and for supporting policies that have enhanced corporations and wealthy Americans at the expense of middle-class families.

The Massachusetts Democrat seized on reports of escalating gasoline prices to hammer the president's leadership during a speech at a job training center here. Recalling that Bush campaigned in New Hampshire four years ago during a spike in oil prices and promised to lobby the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase oil production, Kerry said: "Well I haven't seen any jawboning, have you? All I read about are sweetheart deals with Saudi Arabia."

Kerry outlined several steps that he said would help hold down gasoline prices, including diverting oil going into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and said the president has failed to do anything serious to stem the price rise.

"Bottom line, we need a president who's fighting for the American worker, the American family at the fuel pumps, and to lower the price of gasoline in the United States."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush is opposed to diverting oil from the petroleum reserve to bring down gasoline prices. He said the economic effects of such a move would be negligible and that the 700 million-barrel reserve should be used only in times of national emergency, when there is a severe disruption of the oil supply.

McClellan said that Bush is concerned about rising gas prices and that he and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham will be in contact with OPEC leaders. "We will continue to talk to both OPEC and non-OPEC members around the world on these matters," McClellan said.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt, meanwhile, charged that Kerry has favored policies over the years that would have led to higher prices, including higher gasoline taxes.

For the second day in a row, former Vermont governor Howard Dean joined Kerry on the campaign trail here.

Kerry credited Dean with a campaign that excited Democrats for its directness and passion and said the former governor "helped to focus the conversation in this election" as few others had done.

Kerry plans to meet Wednesday with independent candidate Ralph Nader at his campaign headquarters. Many Democrats believe that Nader's candidacy cost Al Gore the White House in 2000 and have aggressively urged Nader supporters to back Kerry this November. Nader, who is working to gain access to state ballots, has been seeking a meeting with Kerry but said he has no plans to drop out of the race.

At the Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-

Mass.) encourages Kelly Cooper to tell about her being laid off from Boeing.