SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has renewed charges that the Bush administration plans to reinstate the military draft, beginning what his campaign calls the “closing argument” in his case against re-electing President Bush.
“With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of a draft,” Mr. Kerry told reporters and editors of the Des Moines Register, which published his remarks yesterday.
Mr. Kerry told the Register that he can’t imagine how the administration can continue “with the current overextension” of troops in Iraq without instituting the draft.
The Bush campaign reiterated yesterday that Mr. Bush will not reinstate the draft.
“[John Kerry] has demonstrated for the second day in a row that he is a candidate willing to do or say anything to score political points,” said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt, referring to the Massachusetts senator’s reference to the lesbianism of one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughters in Wednesday’s debate.
“The American people saw John Kerry this week cast aside any attempt at decency and his fear-mongering today confirms that.”
During last week’s debate in St. Louis, Mr. Bush said: “We’re not going to have a draft. Period. The all-volunteer Army works.” Mr. Bush said the administration will continue training Iraqis to subdue the militants in their country.
Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry yesterday told reporters flying with Mr. Kerry from Des Moines, Iowa, to Wisconsin that the campaign is not saying the Bush administration has a secret plan to start a draft but is just responding to questions.
“We’re just talking about the inevitability of what happens if you pursue the foreign policy choices that we are currently making,” he said.
“If you go and talk to any college kid on any campus or report out what people are nervous about, you run into this,” Mr. McCurry said. “We get asked this all the time. This is something people are very worried about.”
Rumors about a draft reinstatement have been rampant on the Internet but Kerry campaign officials deny they are trying to stoke such fears among parents and young voters simply for political points.
A poll released last week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that roughly half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 believe Mr. Bush wants to reinstate the draft.
Republicans believe Mr. Kerry, who has made references to the draft during his campaign, specifically raised the issue again while in Iowa, a battleground state with a history of anti-war political sentiment. In 1972, Iowa’s early support of anti-war Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota catapulted him to the Democratic nomination and established Iowa among the nation’s first and crucial caucuses.
They also think a series of recent polls showing Mr. Kerry is losing ground after the debates is making the Kerry campaign more desperate.
A new Reuters/Zogby tracking poll has Mr. Kerry trailing the president by four points, a seven-point swing since last week when Mr. Kerry was ahead. A Rasmussen Reports poll has Mr. Bush leading by one point and an ABC/Washington Post poll has the race even at 48 percent.
Last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill had hoped to finally quell the draft rumor by bringing to the floor — and resoundingly killing — a Democratic bill introduced last year to reinstate the military draft.
The bill was defeated with support from only two congressmen, both Democrats. Even Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who introduced the bill last year as a protest to the war in Iraq, voted against it.
Mr. Kerry also told the Register Mr. Bush’s failure to build alliances for the war in Iraq and poor planning has created a burden on the military.
“There will not be a draft — and there doesn’t need to be a draft — if we have a foreign policy that is in keeping with the values and the history of our country,” Mr. Kerry said.
Democrats are using the draft rumor to raise money for campaigns.
In an e-mail message this week titled “The draft, the president, and the truth,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent around a statement by Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, from last week’s debate on the House floor in which he said it wasn’t surprising that people didn’t believe the administration wouldn’t reinstate the draft.”
Mr. Ryan’s e-mail set a goal of raising $1 million before Oct. 24.
In Appleton, Wis., last night, Mr. Kerry proclaimed that the world wants Mr. Bush out of the White House and the return of the internationalism that marked Washington’s foreign policy for the second half of the 20th century.
“The world is waiting for the United States of America they know and love,” Mr. Kerry told a late-night rally of at least 5,000 supporters in the Midwestern state.
Mr. Kerry has repeatedly said U.S. military action must pass a “global test” of legitimacy, which Mr. Bush says amounts to a “Kerry doctrine” of foreign states wielding control over U.S. action abroad.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report which is based in part on wire service dispatches.
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