Bush and Kerry focus on security

DEMOCRAT John Kerry sought to undercut President George Bush on national security this weekend by charging that he was trying to scare voters with talk of terrorism.

Bush portrayed his opponent as indecisive and suffering from “election amnesia” with conflicting stands on Iraq.

Racing toward a finish line in an election too close to call, Bush hopscotched by Marine helicopter to rallies in Republican-friendly areas of Florida, the state that put him in the White House four years ago. His chopper landings on baseball fields, before thousands of cheering supporters, underscored Bush’s ability to use the powers of the presidency for his campaign.

And if the helicopter arrivals weren’t showy enough, Bush had Air Force One fly over the NFL football stadium in Jacksonville where tens of thousands of people were waiting to hear him speak.

Iraq and the war on terrorism dominated the campaign debate, reflecting voters’ anxieties as the election nears. Kerry’s advisers acknowledged that the issues play to Bush’s political strength as commander in chief, but said confronting the president may be the best way to weaken his standing.

For hundreds of thousands of voters, the time of decision is over already. Thirty-two states allow for some form of early voting, either in person or by absentee ballot, and many voters are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Bush mocked Kerry for criticising him on Iraq, saying the senator now calls it the “wrong war” after voting to authorise force and calling it the right decision when US troops invaded.

“Senator Kerry seems to have forgotten all that as his position has evolved during the course of the campaign,” Bush said. “You might call it election amnesia.”

In Farmington, New Mexico, Vice President Dick Cheney said if Kerry had been president in the 1980s and 1990s, the Soviet Union might still exist and Saddam Hussein might control the Persian Gulf and possess nuclear weapons.

“I think it’s a good thing that he wasn’t in charge,” Cheney said.

Kerry opened the day in Pueblo, Colorado, asking voters to choose what he described as his optimistic outlook. “Vote your hopes, not the fears that George Bush wants you to feel,” Kerry said.

“This president keeps going around the country trying to scare people,” Kerry said. “The only thing he wants to talk about is terror, and the war on terror. If that’s the debate we want to have, I’m prepared to have that debate because I can wage a better war on terror than George Bush has.”

Kerry picked up several newspaper endorsements, including one in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Post that said he was the better bet to achieve his goals “both to fight in Iraq and reach out to allies, to hunt down terrorists and to engage without arrogance the Islamic world.”

A majority of likely voters approve of Bush’s handling of the war on terror and foreign policy. They are evenly split on who would do the best job in Iraq.

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