Sunday, October 31, 2004
Bin Laden tape fodder in presidential contest
Bush cites continuing threat; Kerry critical of war
By Ron Fournier and Nedra Pickler
The Associated Press
APPLETON, Wis. - Wrapping up a campaign shadowed by war and terrorism, President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry reacted rather predictably Saturday to Osama bin Laden's re-emergence.
"It's very helpful to the president," contended Bush ally Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., although the president didn't mention the menacing new message from bin Laden at his first campaign stops on a four-state, 14-hour swing.
Rather, Bush declared, "The terrorists who killed thousands of innocent people are still dangerous and they are determined."
Campaigning 25 miles from the president in eastern Wisconsin, Kerry responded to bin Laden's re-emergence with his months-old criticism of Bush's post-Sept. 11 tactics in Afghanistan, the terrorist mastermind's once and perhaps current home.
"It was wrong to divert our forces from Afghanistan so that we could rush to war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace," said the Democratic challenger. "It was wrong to outsource the job" of capturing bin Laden to local warlords.
As Bush and Kerry crisscrossed Midwest battleground states, a new poll showed the president moving ahead of Kerry in the popular vote, and Democrats said their private surveys hinted at momentum for the Republican incumbent.
The two candidates responded to the bin Laden tape in ways reflecting their long-held campaign strategies.
The president has sought to offset voter concerns about the war in Iraq, the economy and his job performance by highlighting terrorism - and raising doubts about Kerry's ability to respond.
At his first stop in GOP-leaning western Michigan, the president reminded voters of the 2001 attacks. "Americans go to the polls at a time of war and ongoing threats unlike any we have faced before," Bush said.
The Bush administration warned state and local officials that the bin Laden tape may be intended to promote or signal an attack on the United States.
Bush brushed aside questions about whether bin Laden was trying to influence Tuesday's election.
"He will not be successful if he is," Bush told Cleveland television station WKYC, in an interview conducted aboard Air Force One. "The American people will not be influenced or intimidated by an enemy of the people."
Kerry has tried to tap deep anti-war sentiment while assuring swing voters that he would keep them safe. The decorated Vietnam War veteran pledged anew to "destroy, capture, kill Osama bin Laden and all of the terrorists."
With a touch of swagger, Kerry began one sentence by saying, "When I am president," and pledged to provide "leadership and hope" to U.S. troops seeking a quick return home from Iraq.
With up to 40 states already in the Kerry or Bush camps, the race is concentrated in closely fought Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico and Nevada. Another six to 12 states could come into play.
Throughout the battlegrounds, Kerry's mostly paid-army of organizers were pitted against Bush's largely volunteer-driven team to get supporters to the polls Tuesday. It's too late for some: Early voting mushroomed this year and, in Florida alone, nearly 2 million voters have already cast ballots.
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