KWAME HOLMAN: Having spent the weekend prepping for the first of three head-to-head debates on Thursday, President Bush and John Kerry charged back out onto the campaign trail today. Sen. Kerry took questions at a town hall meeting in Wisconsin, while the president made his 26th trip to Ohio. And while the candidates continued to attack each other's records on the stump, their political ads were doing the same over the airwaves.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message.
KWAME HOLMAN: In an ad released today, the Bush campaign questions Sen. Kerry's ability to protect the American people.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Kerry has responded with his own ad condemning the tactics of the Bush/Cheney campaign.
AD SPOKESPERSON: George Bush and Dick Cheney are using the appalling and divisive strategy of playing politics with the war on terror.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, during his town hall appearance in spring green, Wisconsin, Sen. Kerry criticized President Bush for telling Fox News he does not regret appearing on an aircraft carrier last year, and declaring major combat operations over in Iraq.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Even now George Bush is not coming clean with us about Iraq. He keeps on telling us oh, we're making progress, things are going fine. Everything is okay. He actually said in an interview that I think is coming out this week, but it was quoted yesterday that if he had it all to do over again, he'd go land on that aircraft carrier in that same flight suit and stand up there and say, "mission accomplished." And he'd say that at a time when only 150 of our very young men and women had died.
KWAME HOLMAN: Although the president never used the phrase "mission accomplished" during that speech, it appeared on a sign behind him.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Since he said that over 900 have given their lives for the country. The mission was not accomplished when he said it. He didn't know it and didn't understand it. It's not accomplished today, and he's still trying to hide from the American people what needs to be done in order to be successful in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sen. Kerry also responded to the president's claim that he continues to change positions on Iraq.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Every step of the way this president and the Republicans have tried to make it look as if John Kerry has here a position or there a position. I've had one position steady all the way, folks, that I thought we ought to stand up and hold Saddam Hussein accountable but I thought we ought to do it the right way. And doing it the right way means having the patience and the maturity to bring allies to our side, to go through diplomacy, to recognize that the United States of America is strongest when we are standing with the rest of the world in a legitimate cause. And that is what we need to do. But it's not just on Iraq. It's also on jobs here in America. The president promised he was going to create six million jobs. Now, do promises mean anything anymore in America? When a public leader stands up and says here's what I'm going to do, are we going to hold that public leader accountable?
The president is going to Ohio today. I'll bet you, I'll just bet you, folks, he's not going to mention today that under his watch he's lost 237,000 jobs in Ohio. I don't think you're going to hear that today. You're going to hear all this talk, oh, we've turned the corner, we're doing better, blah, blah, you know, blah and blah and blah. But the fact is... the fact is that he inherited an economy with a $5.6 trillion surplus. He inherited an economy with record employment. He inherited an economy stronger than any economy stronger in the modern history of our country. Because he chose, he insisted on a great big tax cut for the wealthiest Americans we went racing into deficit and now we've got deficits as far as the eye can see and they're piling on our children. I think the good common sense fiscally responsible conservative citizens of Wisconsin know that it's our responsibility to pay our bills and not dump them on our kids and on future generations. That's what I intend to do.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush, talking to supporters in Springfield, Ohio, did refer to the state's job losses, and gave his solution to the problem.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I understand you've been hit hard in Ohio. I know that. That's why I proposed what's called opportunity zones, a place where countries like Clark County can apply to become an opportunity zone and be able to have... be able to get, attract business with better tax treatment, better regulatory treatment, ways to make sure that in changing times economies that need help are able to get the help. Now I know there's people still hurting in this state. And that's why it's important to continue to promote pro-growth, pro-small business, pro-farmer economic policies. (Applause)
It's one thing to say we've overcome the obstacles. The real question is: How do we make sure that this prosperity lasts? So I'll give you some ideas. First, America must be the best place in the world to do business. If you want jobs to stay right here in America, we better make sure this is the best place to create jobs. That means less regulations on our business owners and employers. It means we got to do something about frivolous lawsuits that make it hard for people to expand their job base.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the president again accused Sen. Kerry of shifting positions on Iraq.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, later on this week, I'm going to have a chance to debate my opponent. Yeah. It's been a little tough to prepare because he keeps changing positions on the war on terror. He voted for the use of force in Iraq, and then didn't vote to fund the troops. He complained that we're not spending enough money to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, and now he's saying we're spending too much. He said it was the right decision to go into Iraq. Now he calls it the wrong war, probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself. In order to make sure America is safer, the president must speak clearly and mean what he says. You've got to be able to speak clearly in order to make this world a more peaceful place. You cannot expect to lead this world if you try to take both sides of every position.
Finally, they kept pressing him. He said the whole thing's a complicated matter. There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat. We'll prevail. We will prevail if we're resolute and determined. We'll prevail because we'll stay on the hunt and we've got a great coalition of nations. There are 40 nations involved in Afghanistan; some 30 in Iraq. People are doing hard work, and I appreciate the sacrifice the people of those countries are making right alongside our troops. I'll continue to build these coalitions. I'll continue to praise the people and not denigrate the contributions. But one thing I'll never do is I'll never turn over national... our country's national security decisions to leaders of other countries.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush attended one of the largest rallies of the campaign this afternoon in Westchester, Ohio, with more than 30,000 people on hand. The president was scheduled to return to Crawford, Texas, this evening for more debate preparation. Sen. Kerry will remain in Wisconsin to continue his preparations for the Thursday debate.