Vice President Cheney and his counterpart on the Democratic ticket, Sen. John Edwards, continued to trade sharp words on security and Iraq on Wednesday as they charged through the nation's hotly contested battleground states.

Speaking to retirees at a social hall in this depressed steel town, Edwards zeroed in on comments Cheney made more than a decade ago when explaining the quick pullout from Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. A transcript of Cheney's remarks, published Wednesday by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, quotes the then-secretary of defense as saying, "We were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

"Twelve years ago, Dick Cheney was saying there was a great danger, a great risk of getting bogged down there," Edwards said. Parroting the GOP attacks on presidential candidate John F. Kerry, Edwards said: "He was against getting bogged down in Iraq before he was for it."

But a Cheney spokeswoman said there was a reason he changed his mind: Sept. 11, 2001. "Senator Edwards is acting as if September 11th never happened," Anne Womack said. "In the years between then and now, Saddam Hussein . . . continued to grow as a gathering danger to the United States and President Bush decided to address those gathering threats and protect the American people."

While Edwards was taking shots, Cheney took his case to rural Minnesota. He warned that Kerry's inconsistencies should make voters nervous about relying on him to make crucial choices about the nation's security. "What I see is a man who has changed his position repeatedly. He's taken so many positions that there isn't anything he could say today that doesn't contradict something he's already said," Cheney said.

Wednesday's terse exchanges offered a snapshot of the strategy that appears to be driving both vice presidential campaigns. With five weeks left to the election, Cheney and Edwards are hard on the attack on issues of security and Iraq.

Edwards still flashes his toothy smile, but the upbeat message has been supplanted with a speech largely monopolized by the war. He shares most of his thoughts on the campaign's other priorities -- jobs and health care -- only during question-and-answer sessions.

In the West Virginia social hall, the senator from North Carolina used bleak public assessments by some Republicans to bolster his claim that "Iraq is a mess." How can the president maintain Iraq is a success, Edwards asked, while Americans are being kidnapped and beheaded, parts of the country remain under the control of insurgents, terrorists "are flowing into the country from all over the world" and more than 1,000 U.S. troops have died?

Cheney said those who criticize the administration's actions since Sept. 11 do not understand the threat facing the United States and the world. "The idea that somehow we could pull back and simply sit behind our oceans and not aggressively be going after the terrorists and those who sponsor terrorists, I think misreads the situation completely," he said.

Wiggins is traveling with Cheney.