BETTY ANN BOWSER: The bus of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry came first, rolling into the Mississippi River town of 98,000 last night. Then this morning, President Bush's motorcade arrived. The candidates had dueling events that overlapped in time today, and occurred just blocks from one another in Davenport, one of the quad cities that straddles the Iowa-Illinois border. John Kerry's event, an economic summit, started first at about 11:00 A.M. local time. The Democratic candidate invited a group of about 150 national and local business leaders. Sen. Kerry started by mentioning his opponent's close proximity.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: President Bush is just a few blocks from here. It occurred to me that he could come here for a great discussion about America's future if he were really willing to just turn the corner.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Kerry was poking fun at Mr. Bush's recent campaign speeches in which he has repeatedly said America has "turned the corner" on economic issues.
GROUP: Four more years! Four more years!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A half hour later, President Bush greeted his invited guests, thousands of them, at an outdoor rally on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he once again invoked his familiar campaign theme.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: America has added more than 1.5 million new jobs since last August. Because we acted, Iowa's unemployment right now is 4.3 percent. (Applause) When it comes to creating jobs for American workers, we are turning the corner and we are not going back.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jobs and the economy were the main theme at Sen. Kerry's summit.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: We just announced the largest deficit in history. We've lost, in the last four years, 1.8 million private sector jobs in America, 25,000 of them right here in Iowa. Now some people get upset when you tell the truth and talk the facts. Some people say this is the best economy we've ever had. They say that if you think we can do better and you talk about doing better and you have a better plan and you lay it out, you're a pessimist. I think they're wrong.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He then listened to comments from local business leaders, including Shirleen Martin, the head of a job training center.
SHIRLEEN MARTIN: We need the federal government to put investment back into the state of Iowa and to our country. I don't understand losing jobs to Europe. We have to keep our businesses healthy and we have to keep our work force healthy. If we do that, I believe our economy will be healthy. So I'm glad I have the opportunity. (Applause )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At his rally, President Bush talked about health care.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I said we are going to strengthen Medicare to make our rural hospitals in Iowa get the help they need. We are giving better bonuses to physicians so we can keep good doctors practicing in rural America. In other words, we delivered on our promise to the people of Iowa! ( Cheers and applause ) The other folks talk a good game. We deliver.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Sen. Kerry was critical of the administration's approach to health care.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: We can make the cost of health care go down for all Americans, my friends. John Edwards and I have a plan to do this. The people on the other side have no plan. They've had four years. They have no plan, not only to provide coverage to the people who don't have it, which is important to America, but to lower the cost to everybody else.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And both candidates raised the issue of Iraq and America's role in the world.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: After Sept. 11, we could not fail to imagine that a brutal tyrant who hated America had ties to terror, had used weapons of mass destruction, might use those weapons or share his deadly capabilities with our enemies. We saw a threat. Now I had a choice to make. Do I forget the lessons of Sept. 11 and trust a madman, or....
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Or do I take action to defend America given? Given that choice, I will defend our country.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Statesmanship means something leadership in building alliances means something. There's a way to go about it and the fact itself that we have pushed people to the side who ought to be with us in this effort. The truth is, it is not just the United States of America that has an interest in not having a failed Iraq -- in not having a base for terror now, in not having an instability in the middle east. The world has a stake in that outcome. Nothing could underscore more the failure of diplomacy of this administration. They have never fully offered the kind of decision making, shared decision making, shared reconstruction, nor have they built the kind of climate in which other leaders could come to the table.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Iowa-- a state former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore carried by barely 5,000 votes four years ago-- President Bush and Sen. Kerry are practically dead even in the polls. When the president finished his 40 minute speech he fanned into the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs. Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry's event continued, lasting in all nearly two hours.