President Bush yesterday said the race for the White House comes down to “clear choices” between him and John Kerry on five issues: “your family’s security, your budget, your quality of life, your retirement and the bedrock values that are so critical to our families and our future.”
Despite his new stump speech on tax cuts, education spending, Social Security reform and abortion, Mr. Bush still leaned heavily on a single topic — the war on terror — the issue his campaign thinks the president must emphasize to win re-election.
“The enemies who killed thousands of innocent people are still dangerous and determined to strike us again,” Mr. Bush said in Wilkes Barre, Pa. “The outcome of this election will set the direction of the war against terror, and in this war there is no place for confusion and no substitute for victory.”
In Milwaukee, Mr. Kerry, facing a potential gender gap of “security moms,” yesterday told an audience of Wisconsin women that he would end the culture of worry over domestic issues such as wages and college costs that Mr. Bush has created.
“America never was a country that had to live with that kind of worry, and we deserve to be a country that doesn’t have to in the future,” he said. “Today, for far too many women, the American dream seems a million miles away because you’ve barely got time to sleep, and when you’ve barely got time to sleep, you’ve barely got time to dream.”
Repackaging his stump speech for this audience, Mr. Kerry reduced his references to national security. He briefly mentioned his intention to hunt down and kill terrorists, which drew scattered applause, and his commitment to work with allies, which drew a much broader round of applause.
Instead, he said, Americans, and women in particular, face increasing domestic pressures.
“They work hard every single day, every single night, but still each new day brings on a new set of worries,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Worry, when their children go out to play, that they might get injured and health insurance won’t cover it; that elderly parents can’t afford prescription drugs; that jobs will be lost; and that they can’t afford college tuitions.”
A new Bush campaign ad that began airing yesterday, called “Wolves,” criticizes Mr. Kerry for voting to cut defense and intelligence spending.
“In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America’s intelligence operations by $6 billion,” the ad’s narrator said over video of a wolf lurking in the woods.
“Cuts so deep they would have weakened America’s defenses,” the ad continues. “And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.”
The ad was inspired by Ronald Reagan’s “Bear in the Woods” ad in 1984, accusing Democrat Walter Mondale of being too liberal to deal with the threat of Soviet communism.
Mr. Bush, speaking to a crowd of about 15,000 in this heavily Democratic northeast corner of Pennsylvania, aggressively painted Mr. Kerry as unable to take the actions necessary to protect Americans from another catastrophic terrorist attack.
“His top foreign policy adviser has questioned whether it’s even a war at all, saying that’s just a metaphor, like the war on poverty,” Mr. Bush said. “I’ve got news: Anyone who thinks we are fighting a metaphor does not understand the enemy we face and has no idea how to win the war and keep America secure.”
The Kerry campaign responded sharply, saying that despite Mr. Bush’s claims that he has killed or captured three-fourths of the al Qaeda leadership, “the organization is resurging and morphing.”
The Democratic National Committee quickly produced its own animal-themed ad yesterday titled “Protect” to counter Mr. Bush’s “Wolves” spot. It portrays Mr. Kerry as an eagle and the president as an ostrich.
In Wisconsin, Mr. Kerry ridiculed Mr. Bush for having said during the first presidential debate that being president was hard.
“Before the president complains about his job, he ought to come here and spend a day with you. He might learn something about how, day after day after day, the women of this country juggle so much with grace and strength,” Mr. Kerry said.
He said his campaign promises to raise the minimum wage, to provide health care for all children and to work to close the pay gap between men and women will help ease those worries.
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said Mr. Kerry’s voting history should actually concern women voters.
“He voted for higher taxes on their gas. He voted for higher taxes on their Social Security benefits. He even voted for higher taxes on their children and their marriages,” Mr. Schmidt said.
“He has a 20-year record of votes that would weaken our national security, and all the campaign camouflage in the world can’t obscure Kerry’s record of being wrong for American women and their families,” he said.
Polls suggest many female voters are looking for someone they believe makes them feel safer — the “security moms” that Republican pollsters say are gravitating to Mr. Bush.
But Democratic pollsters dismiss the concept of security moms, arguing that married women with children who say security is their highest priority aren’t a big group and were probably going to support Mr. Bush already anyway.
And Democrats also say Mr. Kerry gained among women with his performance in the three presidential debates.
Mr. Kerry said 38 million women didn’t vote in the 2000 election, and he hopes to win their support as “a president who’s on our side.”
At his Pennsylvania event, Mr. Bush conceded that “we didn’t find the stockpiles [of biological and chemical weapons] we thought were in Iraq, that my opponent thought was there, that the United Nations thought was there, that the world thought was there.”
But he pointed out that the report by Iraqi weapons inspector Charles Deulfer on Oct. 6 found that “Saddam Hussein had the intent and capability and the expertise to rebuild a weapons program, that he was gaming the system.”
“He was using the oil-for-food program to try to influence officials of other nations to get rid of the sanctions,” Mr. Bush said. “And why? Because he wanted the world to look the other way so he could restart his programs.”
Mr. Bush has visited Pennsylvania 42 times in his four years in office, and the attention appears to be paying off in a state that Democrat Al Gore won by four percentage points in 2000. A Mason-Dixon poll released this week put the state at a virtual dead heat, 46 percent for Mr. Kerry and 45 percent for Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush yesterday jetted from Wilkes-Barre to Canton, Ohio, a city that he took narrowly in 2000 to help him win the state. The president hadn’t visited Ohio for 19 days before yesterday, causing Democrats to crow that he had given up fighting there. But Vice President Dick Cheney has been dispatched to the state often — he was in Sylvania Thursday and will be in Wilmington Monday — and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has also delivered speeches in the state.
The president will visit two Ohio cities on Wednesday, and two more on Thursday and also stop twice in Pennsylvania on that campaign swing. The coup of the campaign season, however, could be a planned appearance with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Columbus the weekend before the election.
Today Mr. Bush attends four campaign rallies in Florida, then hits the trail in New Mexico tomorrow and Iowa and Wisconsin on Monday.
After his speech in Wisconsin, Mr. Kerry flew to Reno, Nev., for a rally last night, then to Pueblo, Colo., where he has an event today. Mr. Bush won both states in 2000 and both appear to be safely in Mr. Bush’s column this time, according to recent polls.
The complicated Electoral College math shows that Mr. Bush could lose Ohio and Pennsylvania and still win the presidency, but only if he wins Florida and Colorado, which he took in 2000, and also wins Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico, which he lost last time.
James G. Lakely was traveling with Mr. Bush in Pennsylvania. Stephen Dinan was with Mr. Kerry in Wisconsin.