LOS ANGELES – Democrat John Kerry (search), widely assailed by Republican critics, said Friday that President Bush has failed in his response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and faulted the Republican for breaking promises on the economy, education and health care.
The front-runner used a campaign speech to outline his plan to combat terrorism that relies on stronger intelligence-gathering, law enforcement and international alliances — proposals that Kerry has been touting for more than a year.
The context, however, has clearly changed. Disparate Republican officials, speaking with one voice, have stepped up their criticism of the Massachusetts senator's 19-year voting record on national security issues.
Answering back, the Kerry campaign e-mailed a new Web video to 300,000 of its supporters, accusing Bush of making promises he hasn't kept on the economy, education, jobs, health care, veterans and Social Security. The video shows Bush saying, "The No Child Left Behind Act is opening the door of opportunity to all of America's children," followed by the statement, "No Child Left Behind Act underfunded by $9 Billion."
In a somber speech at the University of California at Los Angeles, Kerry said it was Bush who has failed in his response to the Sept. 11 attacks and railed against "his armchair hawks" for failing to provide proper equipment for the military.
"We cannot win the war on terror through military power alone," said the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kerry said Iraq is in disarray with U.S. troops bogged down in a deadly guerrilla war with no exit in sight. He said outlying areas of Afghanistan are sliding back into the hands of a resurgent Taliban and emboldened warlords.
The Bush administration, he argued, has shown disdain for the Mideast peace process and allowed Iran and North Korea to continue their quest for nuclear weapons that could get into the hands of terrorists.
"I am convinced that we can prove to the American people that we know how to make them safer and more secure with a stronger, more comprehensive, more effective strategy for winning the war on terror than the Bush administration has ever envisioned," Kerry said.
Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry made "a political speech filled with defeatist rhetoric and factual inaccuracies."
"John Kerry ignored the real progress being made on all fronts of the war on terror, and he ignored his own long voting record that would undermine America's ability to fight the war on terror," Schmidt said.
The Bush campaign also organized a conference call for reporters with Republican Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Jon Kyl of Arizona, who at one point mistakenly referred to the Democratic front-runner as "President Kerry." The senators argued that Kerry's record belies his tough anti-terrorism rhetoric, pointing out that Kerry sponsored a bill to cut intelligence funding and voted more than 38 times to cut weapons programs, many of the same ones used in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kerry's speech came during a two-day campaign swing through California, one of 10 states voting in the Democratic race Tuesday. Kerry has won 18 of 20 primaries and caucuses so far, and his decisive victories have chased every other major candidate from the race except North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search).
Edwards campaigned Friday in Minnesota, where he hoped to close in on Kerry's lead in the polls and prevail in the state's caucuses. Edwards is counting on support from backers of former candidate Howard Dean in Minnesota.
As part of his anti-terrorism plan, Kerry said he would strengthen the U.S. effort to fight terrorism by protecting chemical and nuclear facilities, increasing security at ports and airports, cutting off terrorist funding, restoring federal dollars for 100,000 police officers and adding 100,000 firefighters across the country.
Kerry referred to reports that Pakistani forces may be moving in to capture Al Qaeda leaders, including Usama bin Laden, in remote areas along the Afghanistan border, but criticized Bush for failing to capture him earlier.
"We've heard that news before," Kerry said. "We had him in our grasp more than two years ago, definitely in our grasp, at Tora Bora but George Bush held U.S. forces back and instead called on Afghan warlords with no loyalty to our cause to finish the job. We all hope that the outcome this time will be different."