- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2004

SAGINAW, Mich. — President Bush said yesterday that Sen. John Kerry’s political opportunism and shifting positions on Iraq make the Democrat “the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time.”

Barnstorming through the Midwest in a final search for swing voters, the president played off Mr. Kerry’s oft-repeated charge that Operation Iraqi Freedom was “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“The senator’s willingness to trade principle for political convenience makes it clear that John Kerry is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time,” Mr. Bush said at the first of four energetic rallies across three states.

The president’s increasingly sharp attacks on Mr. Kerry were leavened by uncharacteristically introspective reflections on his own first term.

“My years as your president have confirmed some lessons and have taught me some new ones,” he said. “I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, because history can deliver sudden horror from a soft autumn sky.

“I found you better know what you believe or risk being tossed to and fro by the flattery of friends or the chorus of the critics,” he added. “I have been strengthened by my faith and humbled by its reminder that my life is part of a much bigger story.”

While Mr. Bush was summing up the past four years, his campaign’s chief strategist was sketching out the next four days.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Matthew Dowd ventured at a gathering sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington. “I like our position a lot better than their position.

“I think the president will be able to declare victory, and Kerry will concede by the time the polls close on the West Coast,” he said.

Mr. Bush has only “a slight advantage” over Mr. Kerry going into the campaign’s final weekend, Mr. Dowd said. But he emphasized that of the 10 states where polls show the contest within the margin of error, seven were won in 2000 by former Vice President Al Gore — which leaves the president with only three to defend this time around.

“We have to win a lot less in the battleground states than Senator Kerry does,” Mr. Dowd said.

He cited a Los Angeles Times poll that cast the race as a tie in Pennsylvania and a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday that gave Mr. Bush a two percentage-point lead in the state.

Asked why the Bush campaign was spending so much time in Democrat-leaning Michigan, Mr. Dowd said it was part of a strategy to take the fight to Mr. Kerry and force him to defend his turf.

“Democrats thought [Michigan] was put away, not a state where they think it was worth his time,” Mr. Dowd said, pointing to a Zogby poll released yesterday showing the race tied in that state. “If we win Michigan, John Kerry can’t win the White House.”

He added that Mr. Kerry’s recent return to Michigan amounts to the Democrat “trying to protect his flank. And we’d rather be there than [campaigning to defend] states we won in 2000.”

Mr. Bush was equally optimistic. “There is no doubt in my mind we will carry Michigan,” he said in Saginaw.

He suggested that a major reason for his confidence was Mr. Kerry’s criticism of U.S. efforts in Iraq after supporting a congressional resolution supporting the war.

“What does that lack of conviction say to our troops who are risking their lives in a vital cause?” Mr. Bush said, drawing applause. “What does that lack of conviction signal to our enemies?

“That if you make things uncomfortable, if you stir up trouble, John Kerry will back off?” he added. “That’s a very dangerous signal to send during this time.”

Kerry spokesman Phil Singer responded by repeating charges that Mr. Bush was to blame for the disappearance of explosives from an ammunition depot south of Baghdad. The spokesman also slammed Bush surrogate and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for suggesting that U.S. troops failed to adequately search the depot.

“George Bush’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Mr. Singer said. “On the same day that his top surrogate blames the troops for the missing explosives, the president has the audacity to cast stones at John Kerry.

“If George Bush understood what it means to be commander in chief, he’d understand that this is his responsibility and wouldn’t be dispatching his allies to denigrate our troops,” he added.

Meanwhile, the top Bush strategist dismissed widespread press speculation that undecided voters will break for Mr. Kerry in the final days. Mr. Dowd cited statistics going back to the 1984 election to show that the “historical evidence does not say that the undecideds all flow to the challengers.”

“I believe, worst-case scenario, we split the undecideds or do better,” Mr. Dowd said. “We feel very good about that.”

With polls indicating that the election essentially comes down to three states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, Mr. Dowd said he is confident that Mr. Bush will capture at least two.

“The likelihood that we win two out of three is high,” he said. “We could easily win three out of three.”

Mr. Dowd also said most of the battleground states will “break in one direction” and thinks Mr. Bush’s slight lead in national polls will push the majority into his column.

As for promises of postelection litigation from both sides, Mr. Dowd predicted a Bush victory that will be significant enough to prevent such challenges.

“The victory will be large enough by us that this will be something we talked about a lot, but it didn’t happen,” he said.

James G. Lakely in Washington contributed to this report.

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