John Edwards demanded Saturday that President Bush call for television ads attacking John F. Kerry's military service in Vietnam to be pulled because they are lies funded by Bush allies.
"This is a moment of truth for George W. Bush," the North Carolina senator told a cheering crowd at a magnet school here, where his campaign stopped for a morning town hall meeting. "We're going to see what kind of man he is and what kind of leader he is. . . . We want to hear from the president of the United States. We don't want to hear rhetoric. We want to hear three words: 'Stop these ads!' "
Saturday night at a fundraiser in the Hamptons, Kerry repeated those sentiments, saying that "they are personally going after me." He declared that "the president needs to stand up and stop that."
The Democrats' comments represented what the campaign called a systematic effort to aggressively respond to charges by a Republican-backed group of veterans accusing the Massachusetts senator of inflating his military record. The campaign also posted an online ad comparing the attacks to ones leveled against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in his bid for the 2000 GOP nomination.
The video, "Old Tricks," will be e-mailed to 200,000 veterans activists and posted on veterans Web sites. "George Bush is up to his old tricks," the video says, showing Bush and McCain at a debate in February 2000.
McCain, sitting next to Bush, says that when "fringe veterans groups" attacked him at a Bush campaign function, Bush stood by and did not say a word. "I don't know how you can understand this, George, but that really hurts," McCain says in the video.
Kerry's critics are being challenged by a Chicago Tribune editor who was on the Feb. 28, 1969, mission for which Kerry received the Silver Star.
"There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam more than 35 years ago -- three officers and 15 crew members. Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened on February 28, 1969," William B. Rood wrote in a 1,700-word story that appeared on the newspaper's Web site Saturday. "One is John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate who won a Silver Star for what happened on that date. I am the other."
Rood refused requests for interviews, including from his own newspaper. "But Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown." he wrote. "The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us."
Rood said allegations that Kerry's accomplishments were overblown are untrue and that Kerry devised an attack strategy that was praised by their superiors. The Tribune said Rood's account was supported by military documents.
Rood wrote that Kerry recently contacted him and other crew members, requesting that they go public with their accounts of what happened. "I can't pretend those calls had no effect on me, but that is not why I am writing this," Rood said. "What matters most to me is that this is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserved to be honored for what they did. My intent is to tell the story here and to never again talk publicly about it."
On Friday, Kerry accused Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of collaborating with the Bush campaign and asked the Federal Election Commission to force the group to withdraw the ad.
Brian Jones, a Bush campaign spokesman, said, "The president has made it repeatedly clear that he wants to see an end to all" advertising from outside groups.
Edwards had planned to focus his remarks on issues touching voters in this region, where thousands of jobs have been lost in the textiles and manufacturing industries. The partisan crowd, which included Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, roared its approval at Edwards's economic message and his direct challenge to Bush. Later in Charleston, W.Va., Edwards repeated his remarks to another enthusiastic audience.
In Roanoke, World War II veteran George Keller, 82, chairman of the Alleghany County-Covington Democratic Committee, said, "I'm tickled to death that they're deciding to fight back." He added: "You can't fake medals. [Bush] should denounce those ads."