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Presidential Election Focuses on Terrorism Issue

September 8, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The war of words on the campaign trail has gotten harsher this week. Yesterday in Des Moines, Iowa, Vice President Cheney warned a town hall audience of an increased threat of terrorism if John Kerry is elected.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, that we make the right choice.

Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we will get hit again, and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and then we will fall back into the pre- 9/11 mindset, if you will.

KWAME HOLMAN: It was John Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, who fired back at Cheney today.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: He said when you go to the polls and vote in November, if you don’t vote for them, for Bush and Cheney, and they lose, and then when, or if, another terrorist attack occurs, it’s the responsibility of the American people that it happened.

Now let me just say first this statement by the vice president of the United States was intended to divide us. It was calculated to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people. It’s wrong and it’s un-American.

KWAME HOLMAN: And at the U.S. Capitol, the presidential campaign rhetoric spilled onto the floor of the House of Representatives.

But it was only Democrats who addressed the vice president’s statement. Georgia’s John Lewis:

REP. JOHN LEWIS: This administration would say anything, it would do anything, to stay in power.

They would deceive, they will mislead; they will steal. They will note tell the truth. That should send righteous indignation all across America in the media. President of the United States is preaching the politics of fear. He is trying to scare the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the Senate side, Majority Leader Bill Frist said he didn’t know the context of the vice president’s remarks.

But in an off-camera statement to reporters, said of President Bush: “He is tough when it comes to terrorism, he will not compromise when it comes to terrorism, and it is crystal clear where he stands. I believe he, in using that definition of the commander in chief, would be stronger than John Kerry.”

At today’s White House meeting with congressional leaders, the president made no comment about Cheney’s remarks, and did not take press questions. White House spokesman Scott McClellan had this statement: “There are differences in how the two candidates approach the war on terror. That’s what the vice president was talking about in his remarks.”


SEN. JOHN KERRY: Thank you so much.

KWAME HOLMAN: John Kerry himself did not mention the vice president when he spoke at an Ohio rally this morning, but he continued his own assault on President Bush.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: I would not have made the wrong choices that are now forcing us to pay nearly the entire cost of this war, $200 billion that we’re not investing in education and health care, job creation here at home; $200 billion for going it alone in Iraq, that’s the wrong choice.

That’s the wrong direction and that’s the wrong leadership for America.

(Cheers and applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Repeating the word “wrong” to describe the Bush decision on Iraq and other issues is a tactic John Kerry began using just this week.

President Bush picked up on it yesterday during an appearance in Columbia, Missouri, and accused Kerry of now adopting the anti-war position of former presidential candidate Howard Dean.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: In the last two days, he woke up with yet another new position, and this one isn’t even his own. (Laughter) It’s the one of Howard Dean. He even used the same words Howard Dean did back when he supposedly disagreed with him.

Look, no matter how many times my opponent flip-flops, we were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power. (Cheers and applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush held no campaign appearances today. He met with emergency workers in hurricane-damaged Florida, and will resume campaigning tomorrow in Pennsylvania. John Kerry held a late-afternoon event in Rochester, Minnesota, and moves on to Iowa tomorrow.