Cheney said, according to the Los Angeles Times, "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that'll be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set that these terrorist attacks are criminal attacks and we're not really at war."
Coming on the heels of the Republican National Convention, where Republicans criticized Kerry for being weak on national security, Cheney's comments sparked immediate reaction from the Democrats.
"Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line today, showing once again that he and George Bush will do anything and say anything to save their jobs," said vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in a statement.
"Protecting America from vicious terrorists is not a Democratic or Republican issue and Dick Cheney and George Bush should know that. John Kerry and I will keep America safe, and we will not divide the American people to do it," Edwards said.
After Cheney's controversial remarks, aides to the vice president sought to clarify them, saying he was referring to the terrorist threat that would face any administration elected in November.
"The vice president is saying that we need to ensure that we have the right policies in place to protect Americans. The campaign stands by and the vice president stands by my explanation of his statement," said Anne Womack, Cheney's campaign press secretary.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that the vice president was pointing out "differences in how the candidates approach the war on terror."
Meanwhile, Democrats put a positive spin on several recent polls that showed President Bush with a solid lead.
Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's communications director said, "Within eight to ten days we'll be back up to where we were, and back to neck-and-neck."