Bush says safety from terror 'up in the air'
Monday, October 25, 2004
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- President Bush and Sen. John Kerry stayed on the offensive in swing states Sunday as the presidential race entered its final full week. In a television interview, Bush said it is "up in the air" whether the nation can ever be fully safe from another terror attack and suggested terrorists may still be contemplating ways to disrupt the election.
Kerry ridiculed Bush's statement, suggesting it echoed an earlier assertion -- later withdrawn -- by the president that the war on terror could not be won.
"You make me president of the United States, we're going to win the war on terror," Kerry said at an evening rally in Boca Raton, Fla. "It's not going to be up in the air whether or not we make America safe."
Earlier, Kerry spoke at a predominantly black church for the fourth consecutive Sunday, this one in Fort Lauderdale in heavily Democratic Broward County, and promised worshippers their votes would be counted this time. The county saw some of the worst of Florida's 2000 vote-counting abuses. "I want you to turn out," the Democrat said.
Kerry pressed his attack on the president's record in new television ads, while on the campaign trail he sought to strike a more inspirational tone, saying in a speech on faith that values he practices as a Roman Catholic "will guide me as president."
The Democrat took on church bishops who have criticized his support for abortion rights and expanded embryonic stem cell research and who have said he should be denied Holy Communion for not advancing church teachings. "I love my church, I respect the bishops, but I respectfully disagree," Kerry said.
With polls showing the race still tight, the campaigns were 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.
Kerry was headed to New Hampshire after Florida. Bush won both states in 2000. The Republican incumbent campaigned in New Mexico, which Democrat Al Gore narrowly won. Speaking at a high school stadium in Alamogordo, Bush cited his differences with Kerry over Iraq.
On a day when Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for ambushing and killing 50 U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers, Bush declared: "Our troops will defeat Zarqawi and his likes overseas in Iraq so we do not have to face them here at home."
In a taped interview with Fox News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes," Bush was asked whether the nation would always be vulnerable to another terror attack and whether Americans would always have to live with that.
"Yes, because we have to be right 100 percent of the time in disrupting any plot and they have to be right once," Bush said. He said the nation is safer from terrorism, but "whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up -- you know, up in the air."
Bush said he was sure terrorists still "think about" trying to disrupt the Nov. 2 elections, citing the March 11 train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people right before Spain's national elections.
"I don't want to alarm anybody because ... there's nothing specific at this point in time -- a kind of general intent," Bush said in the interview, to be broadcast Monday night.
Bush caused a flap at the G0P convention in New York in late August when he said of the war on terror: "I don't think you can win it." The comment, made in an interview with NBC, complicated GOP efforts to portray him as a resolute leader.
The president quickly backed away from the earlier remark, asserting that the war on terror could be won, even if not in a conventional sense, and that he "probably needed to be more articulate."
In the Fox interview taped Saturday, Bush also was asked whether a nuclear, chemical or biological attack in the United States is a real possibility. "Yes it is," Bush replied. "That's the biggest threat we face." Fox released excerpts of the interview on Sunday.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett dismissed Kerry's criticism of Bush's "up in the air" comment. "This is a debate we are more than happy to have. The president said we can win the war on terror and we will win the war on terror," Bartlett said.
Bartlett said Bush would spend the upcoming days focusing more closely on the two central issues: the war on terror and the economy. He will give a new speech on Monday in Greeley, Colo., on fighting terrorism and a new one on the ecnomy on Tuesday in Wisconsin, Bartlett said.
New ads will be aired to bolster these messages, along with a 60-second spot in the final days that will make an "emotional, heartfelt" appear for keeping Bush in the White House. "It's our closing pitch to undecided voters," Bartlett said.
In all, both campaigns are spending nearly $40 million on TV ads in the final week of the campaign.
Closing its own $150 million ad campaign, Kerry's camp said it planned to run a series of previously released television commercials with the candidate offering messages both hopeful about the future and sharply critical of Bush.
Meanwhile, Democrats welcomed President Clinton's plans to campaign for Kerry in Philadelphia on Monday and Florida the next day -- his first public appearances since heart bypass surgery in early September -- saying he could be a big help with swing voters.
But Bartlett, interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," said that while he wished Clinton well, "the fact that John Kerry's going to have to roll him off the surgery table and onto the campaign trail demonstrates a revealing aspect, that he's underperforming in key parts of his own constituency."
Meanwhile, Gore, on a tour of mostly black churches in Florida, told blacks embittered by his narrow loss in the 2000 presidential election to turn anger into energy at the polls. "Don't turn it into angry acts or angry words," the former vice president said in Jacksonville.
And a judge's order requiring some provisional ballots in Michigan to be counted even if they are cast in the wrong precinct was put on hold Sunday, the second time in as many days that a federal appeals court dealt a setback to Democrats seeking to ease voting restrictions. Such ballots are used when voters say they are properly registered but their names are not on voter rolls. On Saturday, the same three-judge panel rejected a similar ruling in Ohio.
Polls showed little movement, with the race essentially even nationally and in the major swing states.
Kerry strategists canceled plans to visit Colorado this week, suggesting his campaign was giving up on that state, even though Kerry was just there.
Tom Raum reported from Washington and Nedra Pickler from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with additional reporting from Jennifer Loven in Waco, Texas.
On the Net:
Bush campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com
Kerry campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com