ELYRIA, Ohio — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry yesterday blamed President Bush for failing to head off a flu vaccine shortage and said it raises the question of whether the president is prepared for worse situations.
He raised the charge while speaking to six women at a health care round table as he campaigned in Ohio, claiming victory in Friday’s second presidential debate.
“If you can’t plan to have enough of that vaccine, what are they doing with respect to the other things that could potentially hurt America in terms of bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, other kinds of things?” he said.
Hope Moon, the director of the nursing program at the school, told Mr. Kerry their opportunity to obtain flu vaccines had been canceled Friday, and Mr. Kerry said they were suffering because the administration withheld information that they knew about the vaccine shortage.
“You’re telling me your flu shots are canceled because this administration was unwilling to play straight with the American people. That’s wrong,” he said. “As a value system, that’s just wrong — not to mention the incompetence of not planning so that you know you have enough vaccine.”
But Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the charge was off base.
“John Kerry’s attack today on flu vaccines is baseless and hypocritical. So few companies make flu vaccines because of a broken medical-malpractice liability system that Kerry falsely claims to want to fix, but has voted 10 times against reforming,” Mr. Schmidt said.
After Friday night’s second presidential debate, Mr. Kerry campaigned yesterday in Ohio and Florida — the two states analysts say could determine the winner on Nov. 2.
Mr. Kerry seized on Mr. Bush’s inability during the debate to name mistakes he’s made. He told supporters at a rally here, before the health care round table, that was “the most stunning moment of the whole evening.”
“The president couldn’t even name one mistake. He sort of glossed it over,” Mr. Kerry said as he claimed victory in the debate. “Two-and-O, and we’re moving on to the third, and I look forward to it.”
The senator took a swipe at Mr. Bush’s enthusiastic answers, pointing in particular to the time Mr. Bush jumped off his seat and demanded that moderator Charles Gibson of ABC let him respond.
“I thought the president was going to attack Charlie Gibson,” Mr. Kerry said. “The reason I thought he was making all those scowling faces was he saw the latest job numbers and he feels, like most Americans, pretty upset about them.”
Instant polls for television networks show slightly more voters believe Mr. Kerry won Friday’s debate than did Mr. Bush, though reaction among commentators and pundits was split about evenly.
Still, Mr. Kerry’s advisers said he did exactly what he had to do by continuing the momentum from the first debate, which polls show voters overwhelmingly believe Mr. Kerry won, to where the overall race is even in national polls.
“I think we’re set up now to go into the third debate with a much longer, fuller description of what Kerry’s going to do to fight for the middle class, which is our theme to the last part of the campaign,” campaign spokesman Mike McCurry said. “People are taking a look at Kerry now and saying, ‘I can really imagine him as president.’ The most important thing for us is, people see, you know, ‘I’m beginning to see this guy in the Oval Office.’”
Mr. McCurry also said the president has probably backed himself into a corner by refusing to admit his mistakes.
“What they’re saying is, ‘the strength of character to do what I think is right.’ But there’s a point where that walks right into pigheadedness. And that’s the danger for them,” he said.
Later yesterday, at a town hall gathering in Davie, Fla., Mr. Kerry defended his tort-reform plan, saying it was exactly because he and running-mate Sen. John Edwards can make the case that they will get something passed.
“John Edwards and I are going to be Nixon going to China when it comes to tort reform,” he said.
Also at last night’s town hall meeting, Mr. Kerry spent 10 minutes telling the audience of his commitment to pursuing peace in the Middle East, and told them about the time he finagled the chance to fly an Israeli air force plane.
“I’m turning, and suddenly I’m hearing the voice in the intercom that says to me, senator, you’d better turn faster, you’re going over Egypt,” he said.
He added that he got a sense of what was at stake in the region when he later did a loop in the plane: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to understand the Middle East, you look at it the way I did — upside down.”