- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 17, 2004

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — President Bush campaigned along the east coast of Florida yesterday, the first of three visits in four days, promising to keep “freedom on the march” in the Middle East and to reform Social Security in a second term.

Mr. Bush also sharpened his attacks on Sen. John Kerry, saying his Democratic opponent “can run but cannot hide” from a 20-year liberal record in the U.S. Senate.

Both campaigns will devote many valuable campaign days to Florida in the final two weeks before Election Day to capture the state’s 27 electoral votes, the most of any state still considered a battleground.

A Washington Post poll of Florida voters released yesterday put the race in a tie, with 48 percent each. However, of the nine other polls of the state released this month, Mr. Bush is leading in seven of them, four outside the margin of error.

A senior Bush campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he thinks the president is up four points in Florida.

Mr. Kerry has scheduled events in Fort Lauderdale today and in Tampa and Orlando tomorrow. The Massachusetts Democrat’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, was in Miami yesterday. Mr. Edwards had a three-city tour planned for today and an event in Fort Myers tomorrow.

After taking today off the campaign trail, Mr. Bush will head tomorrow to Boca Raton after a stop in New Jersey, then stump in St. Petersburg, the Villages and Newport, Fla.

Mr. Bush told a crowd of about 10,000 at the Office Depot Center in Fort Lauderdale that the three presidential debates “highlighted the stark differences between my opponent and me.”

Mr. Kerry’s liberal record in the Senate, he said, proves he is “out of the mainstream” of most Americans and his numerous positions on the war in Iraq are “a case study on why his contradictions call into question his credibility and ability to lead this nation.”

The president said Mr. Kerry, who voted to authorize the war, voted against funding the mission because “his opponent in the primaries, Howard Dean, was gaining ground as an anti-war candidate.”

Mr. Bush also referred to an interview Mr. Kerry granted CBS’ “Face the Nation” in September 2003 in which he said it would be irresponsible to vote for the war but against the funding, and predicted no senator — including himself — would do that.

“Senator Kerry apparently decided supporting the troops, even while they were in harm’s way, was not as important as shoring up his own political position,” Mr. Bush said.

Reprising a major theme of his 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush underscored his plan to save Social Security by allowing younger workers to take a small percentage of their taxes and put them into private accounts. Mr. Kerry and most Democrats contend such a plan would wreck the system.

“In a new term, I’ll take the next great step to build an ownership society by strengthening Social Security,” Mr. Bush said. “For the sake of our children, we must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their payroll taxes in a personal account, an account they can call their own, an account the government cannot take away.”

Senior Bush political consultant Karl Rove said he is optimistic about the president’s chances in Florida.

Mr. Rove, in an interview in West Palm Beach, a Democratic stronghold that was the epicenter of the fractious 2000 recount, noted that the first two campaign events yesterday were held in heavily Democratic counties. Yet each, he said, drew crowds of more than 10,000.

Mr. Rove said the campaign’s research shows Mr. Bush is making gains among Jews, a large voting bloc in Florida, because of the president’s aggressive stance on terrorism.

Moderate Democrats also have been wooed because of Mr. Kerry’s liberal record, he said, along with Hispanics — especially Cuban Americans — and Haitians, who are grateful for the administration’s role in ousting corruption-tainted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“Our goal is to take the Bush coalition that we’ve built over the last four years in this state and expand it,” Mr. Rove said.

And to do that will take more visits to Florida in the fast-paced final fortnight.

“We’ll be on this state like the morning dew,” a chipper and confident Mr. Rove said.

Mr. Bush was introduced at events in West Palm Beach and Daytona Beach by 1st Lt. Wendell Hays of the Florida Army National Guard. Lt. Hays, who served in Iraq, said Americans are getting a false picture of reality there.

“The Iraqi people, the great majority of them, are very grateful for our sacrifices and are very hopeful for their future,” Lt. Hays said. “I support our mission and I support our president.”

Mr. Bush continued to knock down rumors — peddled by groups sympathetic to Democrats and Mr. Kerry — that the military draft would be reinstated if he is re-elected.

The president, however, flubbed what was billed by campaign staff as a tough new line on the subject.

“My opponent seems willing to say almost anything that will benefit him,” Mr. Bush said. “Standing on the stage in the debates, I made it clear that we will not have an all-volunteer Army.

“Let me restate that,” he said with a chuckle as the crowd laughed along. “We will not have a draft. No matter what he wants to tell people to scare them, we will have an all-volunteer Army.

“The only one to talk about the draft is my opponent,” Mr. Bush said, his voice rising to a shout. “The only ones to advocate a draft are the Democrats. The only way to avoid a draft is to elect me.”

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