Monday, October 18, 2004

MARLTON, N.J. — President Bush yesterday said Sen. John Kerry wants to return the United States to the “mirage of safety” that existed during the Clinton administration, but vowed that if re-elected, he will stay on the offensive against terrorism and accept no outcome but victory.

“During the decade of the 1990s, our times often seemed peaceful on the surface, yet beneath that surface were currents of danger,” the president said. Mr. Bush said terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in 1993, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000 brought responses he described as merely “symbolic.”

“That is the time that my opponent wants to go back to, a time when danger was real and growing, but we didn’t know it,” Mr. Bush said. “But that very attitude is what blinded America to the war being waged against us. And by not seeing the war, our government had no comprehensive strategy to fight it.”

Contrasting himself to Mr. Kerry — who he said offers only “tough-sounding words repeated in the election season” — the president said he is more qualified to continue leading the war against terror.

“The choice we face in this election, the first presidential election since September the 11th, is how our nation will defeat this threat. Will we stay on the offensive against those who want to attack us? Or will we take action only after we are attacked?” he said. “In this time of choosing, I want all Americans to know you can count on me to fight our enemies and defend our freedom.

“Winning the war on terror requires a strategy for victory. Unlike my opponent, I understand the struggle America faces and I have a strategy to win,” he said to applause from about 1,000 supporters gathered at the suburban Evesham Township Recreation Center, about 20 miles east of Philadelphia.

The president’s trip yesterday was his first stop since December to New Jersey, a state that Vice President Al Gore won by 16 percentage points in 2000 and that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1988.

However, a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll shows Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry tied with 46 percent each, with 67 percent of those surveyed saying that national security and the war on terror are the most important election issues.

The Kerry campaign dismissed Mr. Bush’s visit to New Jersey, saying the Massachusetts Democrat had no plans to visit the state before Election Day. The campaign also said that although Mr. Bush “claimed that the previous administration ignored the terrorist threat,” Mr. Bush’s administration “turned a blind eye to al Qaeda after repeated warnings.”

“It just was one more shrill attack from the president,” said Kerry spokesman Joe Lockhart. “This speech takes it across the line. It is now a fundamentally dishonest campaign from a fundamentally dishonest president.”

Earlier in the day, the president told Associated Press reporters aboard Air Force One that Mr. Kerry engaged in “scare tactics” by suggesting that the Bush administration would jeopardize Social Security and reinstate a military draft.

On Sunday, Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush was planning a “January surprise” attempt to privatize Social Security if re-elected and alluded to “the great potential of a draft” if he is re-elected.

“One of the things that we obviously are being confronted with are shameless scare tactics,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “My opponent has said to youngsters that if George W. is elected, there will be a draft,” even though Mr. Bush has explicitly repeated his opposition to a draft.

In New Jersey, Mr. Bush said that some state residents could see the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center after the September 11 attacks.

“We will never forget that day,” he said, “and we will never forget our duty to defend America.”

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