- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

BOSTON — President Bush stomped onto his presidential opponent’s home turf yesterday, calling Sen. John Kerry a tax-and-spend liberal who vacillates on key issues.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Kerry one of the main opponents of tax relief in Congress, noting that during Mr. Kerry’s 20 years of representing Massachusetts in the Senate, he has voted more than 350 times for tax increases, “including the biggest tax increase in American history.”

“He supported a 50-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline. He wants you to pay the extra money at the pump, but he wouldn’t even throw in a free car wash,” the president said to laughter and applause from 1,000 supporters at the Park Plaza hotel in downtown Boston.

Mr. Bush also chided Mr. Kerry for being on both sides of every issue.

“His answers aren’t always so clear, but the voters will have a clear choice in November,” Mr. Bush said.

“The man who sits in the Oval Office sets the course of the war on terror and the direction of our economy,” Mr. Bush told supporters at a $1.2 million fund-raising dinner. “The other side hasn’t offered much in the way of strategy to win the war or policies to expand our economy.”

The Kerry camp immediately released a carefully worded statement that said the senator “has never sponsored or voted for a gas-tax increase of that magnitude.”

“Sen. Charles Robb introduced legislation in 1993 that phased in a 50-cent increase. John Kerry did not vote for or co-sponsor this bill,” according to the e-mail, titled “Misleading America Again.”

But the Bush-Cheney team responded with a release titled “The Raw Deal,” citing a 1994 Boston Globe article in which Mr. Kerry said a rating by a budget watchdog group “doesn’t reflect my $43 billion package of cuts or my support for a 50-cent increase in the gas tax.”

In his first trip to Mr. Kerry’s home state since the senator became the presumptive presidential nominee, Mr. Bush said he has not given up on the notion on winning the liberal state, which last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1984.

“Nobody should take this state for granted in 2004,” he said. “We want you out there turning the voters out.”

But David Wade, spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said Mr. Bush is not right for the state.

“Massachusetts wants jobs, health care, balanced budgets and promises kept on homeland security and education. In other words, Massachusetts wants the same kind of change America wants, and it starts by electing John Kerry president.”

Both at the fund-raiser and in Nashua, N.H., Mr. Bush defended his administration against new accusations that he underestimated the threat from the al Qaeda terror network and then rushed to blame Iraq’s Saddam Hussein for the September 11 terror attacks. He also defended his overseeing of an economy that has lost 2.2 million jobs.

“We’re trying to do our solemn duty to protect America,” he said at New Hampshire Community Technical College.

“Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people,” Mr. Bush said to loud applause from an audience of about 300 people.

It was Mr. Bush’s first extended response to accusations by Richard A. Clarke, his former counterterrorism adviser. Mr. Clarke says Mr. Bush ignored the threat from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden before the September 11 terror attacks and then rushed to try to blame the attacks on Saddam.

The last Republican to win Massachusetts was President Reagan in 1984, when he took every state but Minnesota, home state of his opponent, Walter Mondale.

Although the president’s father, George Bush, soundly defeated another Massachusetts liberal, Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 presidential election, state leaders realize that they face daunting odds this year. Just 13 percent of state’s voters are registered Republicans, with 37 percent registered as Democrats and 50 percent enrolled as independents, said Dominick Ianno, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Despite the lopsided numbers, Mr. Ianno thinks Mr. Bush still has a chance to “pull a Reagan” in the state.

“The president’s had a strong record of leadership over the last three years,” he said. “If people ask themselves, ‘Has he been a strong leader on the economy and national security issues?’ I think he stands a chance to get that message out and win any state.”

In Nashua, Mr. Bush held a roundtable on a job-training program he proposed in his State of the Union address in January.

“Community colleges have got the capacity to be flexible in their curriculum,” the president said while standing in front of a 1992 Chevy pickup being repaired by students.

“Community colleges are able to say to local business, ‘What do you need?’ You can actually match people with the skills needed to work in the new jobs of the 21st century,” he said.

The Jobs for the 21st Century program calls for $250 million in grants to community colleges.

The economy has lost 2.2 million jobs during Mr. Bush’s tenure, but unemployment is at 5.6 percent — lower than it was in 1998 when President Clinton sought re-election.

Mr. Kerry has hammered the president over job losses, noting that he is the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs. But the unemployment rate in New Hampshire, which Mr. Bush won in 2000 for his only New England victory, is now at 4.1 percent, down from 4.9 percent a year and a half ago.

The Kerry campaign said Mr. Bush’s job-training initiative is more evidence that he is out of touch with Americans.

“Never has the Bush administration increased the resources going toward programs for people who have lost jobs and need retraining to find new ones,” said Kerry campaign spokeswoman Kathy Roeder.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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