- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry yesterday accused President Bush of planning to answer a deteriorating situation in Iraq with a massive call-up of reserve and National Guard troops after Election Day.

Continuing his attack this week that Mr. Bush has not leveled with American voters about the worsening conflict in Iraq, Mr. Kerry said the call-up is just another secret the president is keeping.

“He won’t tell us what congressional leaders are now saying — that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and Guard units immediately after the election,” Mr. Kerry said at a town hall meeting before several hundred supporters in Albuquerque.

His campaign staff said Mr. Kerry was basing the charge on information from Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

But the Bush campaign ridiculed the charge.

“John Kerry’s conspiracy theory of a secret troop deployment is completely irresponsible and as baseless as his claims to meet with and be endorsed by foreign leaders,” said spokesman Steve Schmidt. “John Kerry didn’t launch this attack when he spoke to the National Guard because he knows they know it is false and ridiculous.”

And Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican, responding to the charges made in his home state, said he serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee and has heard no such rumor.

Mr. Kerry spoke to the National Guard Association on Thursday, receiving a cold but polite reception but making no mention of his belief in a secret plan.

Yesterday, about an hour after he made his charge, Mr. Kerry’s traveling press staff sent out a statement from Mr. Murtha’s congressional office providing backup for the claim.

“I have learned through conversations with officials at the Pentagon that at the beginning of November 2004, the Bush administration plans to call up large numbers of the military guard and reserves, to include plans that they previously put off to call up the Individual Ready Reserve,” Mr. Murtha said, though he provided no other details, just a critique of the U.S. effort so far.

The Democratic press secretary for the Appropriations Committee sent out a copy of Mr. Murtha’s statement an hour after Mr. Kerry’s campaign did. A spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry’s campaign said the senator spoke with Mr. Murtha in the past couple days, and then yesterday, when the campaign learned Mr. Murtha was going to put out a statement on the issue, Mr. Kerry decided also to make the charge.

Neither Mr. Murtha’s personal congressional office nor his subcommittee office returned calls seeking comment on his theory or his conversation with Mr. Kerry.

The call-up charge may have overshadowed what was supposed to be Mr. Kerry’s attack yesterday as he continued to argue that the president has misled the nation on the deteriorating situation in Iraq, and then tying that to Vice President Dick Cheney’s ties to Halliburton.

“If this isn’t bad enough — and it is pretty bad — Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, has profited from the mess in Iraq at the expense of American troops and taxpayers,” Mr. Kerry said.

His campaign began running a new ad yesterday that highlights that attack, and Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart said the point is to put Halliburton in voters’ minds in the broader context of what Mr. Kerry calls Mr. Bush’s attention to businesses first, and average Americans second.

“We believe that whatever the public feels about President Bush and Vice President Cheney, [they believe] they’re fundamentally going to take care of their friends first, and take care of everybody else after,” Mr. Lockhart said.

But the Bush campaign said some of Mr. Kerry’s donors, including fund-raising co-chairman David Marchick, work for a firm that is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on behalf of Halliburton.

In New Mexico, Mr. Kerry is either running neck and neck with or is slightly ahead of Mr. Bush, depending on the poll. But nationwide, the picture is slightly bleaker. A new Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll has Mr. Bush leading among likely voters by 13 percent.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign, though, dismissed that poll as far outside the range of most other polls, and said an average of the other major national surveys shows Mr. Bush only leading by about 2 percent.

In a CBS News-New York Times poll of registered voters released last night, Mr. Bush led Mr. Kerry 50 percent to 41 percent while independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader had 3 percent.

At one point during yesterday’s town hall meeting, Mr. Kerry seemed to be blind-sided when audience member Bob Kirkpatrick asked him about U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.

As Mr. Kirkpatrick said the U.S. must change “our shameful treatment of the Palestinians,” Mr. Kerry nodded his head. But Mr. Kerry took issue with the man’s statement that Israel is a theocracy, not a democracy.

“We’re going to support Israel because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, has a special relationship with the United States, is struggling for survival, is under attack,” Mr. Kerry said.

After the event, Mr. Kirkpatrick said he agrees with Mr. Kerry on just about every other issue, but he still doesn’t know if he will support Mr. Kerry in November because of the Palestinian question.

“It’s going to be four more years as usual,” he said, adding that he had expected Mr. Kerry to answer as he did, and asking the question was a way to get Mr. Kerry on the record.

“I wanted to have him say it in public,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said, who during a follow-up question said Israel “has too much control over Congress,” which is subservient to that nation’s interests.

Mr. Kerry responded: “I disagree with you then. I don’t believe we are subservient, I’m not subservient, and I’m not going to be subservient to anybody.”

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