Cheney: Kerry Victory
Is Risky Democrats Decry Talk as Scare Tactic.
By Dana Milbank and Spencer S. Hsu
COLUMBIA, Mo., Sept. 7 -- Vice President Cheney warned on Tuesday that
if John F. Kerry is elected, "the danger is that we'll get hit again" by
terrorists, as the Bush campaign escalated a furious assault on the
Democratic presidential nominee that has kept Kerry from gaining control
of the election debate.
In Des Moines, Cheney went beyond previous restraints to suggest that
the country would be more vulnerable to attack under Kerry. "It's
absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we
make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the
danger is that we'll get hit again," the vice president said, "that
we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of
the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set,
if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts
and that we are not really at war."
In Missouri, meanwhile, President Bush seized on Kerry's statement
Monday that Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong
time," noting that Kerry had borrowed the words of his former rival
Howard Dean. Kerry "woke up yesterday morning with yet another new
position, and this one is not even his own," Bush said to laughter from
supporters during a three-city Missouri bus tour. ". . . He even used
the same words Howard Dean did, back when he supposedly disagreed with
him. No matter how many times Senator Kerry flip-flops, we were right to
make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power."
The Kerry campaign called Cheney's allegation "un-American" and said
Bush would not be able to "distract the American people" from problems
in Iraq and with the U.S. economy. But in a tacit acknowledgment that
Kerry has had difficulty presenting a convincing critique of Bush, Kerry
aides are promising a major new front in Kerry's stepped-up attack on
Bush's policies beginning Wednesday: a series of speeches laying out the
administration's "miscalculations" in taking the nation to war in Iraq.
Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, interviewed aboard
his plane after leaving Ohio, said of Cheney's comments: "What he said
was meant to scare voters, period. And it's completely contrary to
what's in the best interest of the American people. . . . It was way
over the top and I think un-American."
Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack labeled that comment an "overreaction"
and said Cheney "wasn't trying to connect the dots" between a Kerry
victory and a terrorist attack. "Whoever is elected in November faces
the prospect of another terrorist attack," she said. "The question is
whether or not the right policies are in place to best protect our
country. That's what the vice president was saying."
Because last week's Republican convention in New York left Bush with a
lead in polls, Kerry has sought to turn election topics away from
terrorism -- Bush's strongest issue -- and toward the economy and Bush's
work on the Iraq war, topics on which the president is more vulnerable.
But those efforts by Kerry, including a bid to raise the issue of
"outsourcing" of U.S. jobs, have had mixed success because of a
combination of Kerry's scattershot themes and the Bush campaign's
strategy of parrying Iraq criticism by portraying Kerry as inconsistent.
Democratic partisans have been calling on Kerry to launch more pointed
criticism of Bush, which Kerry has done since the GOP convention. But
Kerry finds himself in a box on the Iraq war: Because he voted to
authorize the use of force in Iraq, and has subsequently defended that
vote, the Bush campaign has rebutted any criticism of the war by calling
it a Kerry "flip-flop." Bush himself used that phrase for the first time
in a speech in Lee's Summit, Mo.
While the Bush campaign has focused with a laser's intensity on the
subject of terrorism, the Kerry campaign has sought to challenge Bush on
multiple themes, often on the same day. On Tuesday, for example, the
Kerry side began with a news release criticizing Bush on outsourcing.
"Because of George Bush's wrong choices, we're continuing to ship jobs
overseas, jobs that have good wages and benefits," Kerry said during a
forum on economic issues in Greensboro, N.C. "That's W: wrong choices,
wrong direction -- and it's up to us to make it right."
The Democratic ticket also sent out a statement on health care,
quotations from Kerry on the federal deficit and Medicare, new
information about a Vietnam War veterans group's attacks on Kerry, and a
contention that Republicans have been hypocritical in condemning trial
lawyers. The campaign also hosted a conference call to criticize Bush's
actions on intelligence gathering.
But Bush's charges that Kerry borrowed Dean's antiwar line soon had the
Democrats on the defensive. By late morning, Kerry campaign spokesman
Phil Singer issued a statement saying: "George Bush has made wrong
choices in Iraq that have taken us in the wrong direction here at home.
Those wrong choices have landed the country in a quagmire, costing us
$200 billion and counting."
The Bush campaign, by contrast, quietly contacted reporters covering
Kerry to rebut the outsourcing charges, while the president made a trio
of appearances criticizing Kerry for vacillating on Iraq. The incumbent
kept national and homeland security front and center.
Bush did not address the problems in Iraq: the failure to find weapons
of mass destruction and the unrest that has led to the deaths of 1,000
U.S. troops. (A statement about the 1,000th death was presented in the
middle of a Bush campaign speech here.) Instead, Bush emphasized flaws
in Kerry's positions on Iraq.
"I think this country wants consistent, principled leadership," he said.
"My opponent has now voted for the war and against supplying our troops.
When he got on in the Democrat primary, he declared himself the antiwar
candidate. More recently, he switched again." Seconds later, Bush
derided Kerry's criticism of allies in Iraq as "coerced" and "bribed."
"It's also wrong for my opponent to denigrate the contributions of
America's allies, who are standing side by side with our men and women
in uniform risking their lives for freedom," he said.
The technique is similar on the economy. Bush did not directly discuss
the net loss of about 900,000 jobs during his term, saying instead that
"to create more jobs, we must stop the junk lawsuits that threaten small
businesses." Bush did not provide details of his plan, instead shifting
to criticism of Kerry on the issue. "I understand my opponent changes
positions a lot, but for 20 years he's been one of the trial lawyers'
most reliable allies in the Senate," he said.
In part, Kerry has been hurt by events beyond his control. The
Republican message dominated news coverage last week, with Bush
appearing on prime-time television for more than an hour to accept his
While Kerry has resumed a heavy schedule of campaign appearances, he has
not conducted a news conference in more than five weeks. Unscripted
events often make the news and, in contrast to Bush, play to Kerry's
strength as a strong off-the-cuff
Staff writers Paul Farhi in Greensboro and Vanessa Williams in
Chillicothe, Ohio, contributed to this report.
Source: Washington Post Staff
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page A01