October 25, 2004
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. —
President Bush, presenting himself as the best candidate to keep America safe, was accused by John Kerry on Monday of "unbelievable incompetence" in the disappearance of hundreds of tons of powerful explosives in Iraq.
"Every step of the way, this administration has miscalculated," Kerry said in Dover, N.H. He spoke shortly before traveling to Philadelphia for a rally with former President Clinton, who was making his first political appearance since heart surgery nearly seven weeks ago.
Kerry said the Bush administration had "miscalculated about how to go to war, miscalculated about the numbers of troops that we would need, miscalculated about sending young Americans to war without the armor they needed, without the Humvees they needed that were armored."
"And the incredible incompetence of this president and this administration has put our troops at risk and put this country at greater risk than we ought to be," Kerry said.
Running mate John Edwards, campaigning in Ohio, added, "After today, it's hard to imagine that even they'll continue believing things are going well."
The International Atomic Energy Agency said about 350 tons of highly explosive material had disappeared in Iraq, apparently stolen because of a lack of security at governmental installations.
The central argument of Bush's re-election campaign is that he can do a better job protecting America than Kerry, and polls show that voters trust Bush more on this issue. The Bush campaign dismissed Kerry's criticism of the missing explosives without responding to the allegations.
"John Kerry has no vision for fighting and winning the war on terror, so he is basing his attacks on the headlines he wakes up to each day," Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "If John Kerry wants to spend the next eight days trying to explain his positions again, we welcome that debate."
Bush, in an ABC interview broadcast Monday, was asked about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States before the election, a threat the administration has repeatedly raised. "We don't have actionable intelligence to say there's an attack, and of course if we did, we'd be moving heaven and earth to stop it," the president said.
Asked in the interview if he has considered the fact that he could lose, Bush replied, "I'm not there yet."
Bush and Kerry are focusing their efforts on fewer than a dozen states that remain highly competitive, with both camps making last-minute scheduling decisions to reflect realities on the ground.
The president was to deliver a speech Monday in Greeley, Colo., to call attention to his handling of the war on terror. He was accompanied by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
The president was headed to Iowa afterward for events in Council Bluffs and Davenport.
The new speech was part of a multi-pronged, final-stretch effort by Bush to hone the defining issues of the campaign and to find a way to break the neck-and-neck status of the race.
Monday's focus on the war on terror includes a new television ad that closely tracks the president's remarks. Bush accuses Kerry of not having what it takes to prosecute the anti-terror war.
Then on Tuesday, Bush plans an address on the economy. It's an area where Kerry believes he is stronger, but Bush will contrast what he says is the economy-boosting impact of his tax cuts with a charge, denied by Kerry, that the Massachusetts senator would raise taxes on all Americans if elected. That argument would come as Bush appeared at three rallies in Wisconsin and one back in Iowa.
By Friday, Bush will shift to the topic of leadership qualities "in a very personal way, in a way he hasn't done before," including a recounting of how people he has met with have shaped his views of the war on terror and his presidency, said communications director Dan Bartlett.
The campaign also plans its final ad, to be a rare 60 seconds long and released later in the week, intended to capture the president as likable and trustworthy by including "very emotional" footage of Bush talking in various settings, Bartlett said. That ad -- which Bartlett called "our closing pitch to undecided voters" -- would not mention Kerry.
With only a few states left on both sides' target lists, a now-familiar coincidence of scheduling has Bush and Kerry spending the night in the same state, the president in La Crosse, Wis., and Kerry about 200 miles away in Green Bay. Bush was also coming close to crossing paths with Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who was stumping in Racine, Wis., and Dubuque, Iowa, on Monday.
Bush won Colorado big in 2000, by 51 percent to Al Gore's 42 percent. But a weak economy, the state's growing Hispanic population and a competitive Senate race gave Kerry reason to give it another look.