- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush’s campaign team told Sen. John Kerry it “does not condone” any effort to impugn his patriotism, but asserted that the senator’s voting record on national security and defense issues is a valid target of political scrutiny.

Responding yesterday to a letter in which Mr. Kerry accused President Bush of using surrogates to attack his military service in Vietnam and his subsequent opposition to the war, Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign Chairman Marc Racicot said, “I ask you to elevate the remarkably negative tone of your campaign and your party over the past year.”

Mr. Kerry had taken umbrage at statements that Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, made earlier, predicting trouble for the Massachusetts Democrat in Georgia’s primary because of a “32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems.”

In the letter to Mr. Bush on Saturday, Mr. Kerry wrote: “As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation’s history, and the struggle for our veterans continues. So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to reopen these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do.”

“Saxby Chambliss, on the part of the president and his henchmen, decided today to question my commitment to the defense of our nation,” Mr. Kerry said while campaigning in Georgia, one of 10 states choosing electoral delegates March 2.

Mr. Kerry said at a news conference he voted for the largest defense and intelligence budgets in U.S. history, although sometimes he “voted for common sense to make changes.”

In his reply letter yesterday, Mr. Racicot said: “Our campaign does not condone any effort to impugn your patriotism. Your letter claims that supporters of our campaign questioned your service and patriotism. In fact, that simply wasn’t the case.”

“Our campaign is not questioning your patriotism or military service, but your votes and statements on issues now facing our country,” said Mr. Racicot, former governor of Montana. “Senator Chambliss addressed your Senate record of voting against the weapons systems that are winning the war on terror.”

Mr. Racicot’s reply came as Mr. Kerry and Sen. John Edwards visited black churches in states conducting primaries in the March 2 Super Tuesday series of delegate-selection contests.

Mr. Kerry has a commanding lead over Mr. Edwards, winning 15 out of 17 states so far. Mr. Edwards, who has won only in his birth state of South Carolina, has been telling voters he would have a better chance than Mr. Kerry to unseat the president this fall.

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