MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – New York Gov. George Pataki (search) urged supporters Saturday to back President Bush's re-election by saying Democrats' failure to respond to previous acts of terrorism led the way to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Pataki criticized the Clinton administration for not properly responding to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole (search) and an attack on a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia.
"We cannot forgot these lessons. Thank God that on Sept. 11, George W. Bush was the president of America," Pataki told hundreds gathered at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (search) on Saturday night.
He also lashed out at critics who said no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq — one of the arguments Bush made for going to war.
"Saddam Hussein, an evil dictator who killed tens of thousands of his own people, was himself a weapon of mass destruction against the people of Iraq and against the civilized people of the world," Pataki said.
"On Sept. 11, a weapon of mass destruction was a simple box cutter that was used to carry out the attacks that killed thousands of my friends and neighbors and co-workers," he said.
Pataki's remarks capped a day in which Republican leaders attacked Sen. John Kerry (search), encouraged activists to build a strong grass roots campaign for the president and talked about building on their majority in the U.S. Senate.
One of the remarks caused Democrats to demand an apology: State Rep. Jennifer Carroll (search) made a joke that suggested Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton could help the country best if she was assassinated.
But Pataki's remarks were the best received over the three-day conference. He was interrupted several times with thunderous applause as he pointed out Bush's response to Sept. 11 proved he should lead the country.
"It is far better that our soldiers are fighting Al Qaeda and terror on the streets of Baghdad than our firefighters and our police fighting Al Qaeda and terror on the streets of Broadway," Pataki said.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Tony Welch criticized Pataki for using the attacks for political gain.
"While Americans are looking for answers to what happened before Sept. 11, Gov. Pataki is intent on using 9-11 for its political gain," Welch said. "It just so happens that Democrats believe you can fight the war on terror and build a stronger international coalition to do that ... It's absolutely disingenuous to suggest that somehow Sen. Kerry isn't strong on defense."
Earlier in the day, Carroll opened her remarks during a discussion of Senate races by making a joke about Clinton. She said the New York senator and former first lady was visited by the ghosts of three presidents — Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln — and asked each what she could do to help the nation.
Carroll said Lincoln's response was "Go to a theater." Lincoln was assassinated in Ford's Theater in Washington.
Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox and Welch called for an apology.
"I am shocked that an elected official would suggest anything having to do with an assassination of a U.S. senator. She should apologize," Maddox said. "It's completely fair to joke about a policies or personal traits, but to joke about assassination is in poor taste.
Carroll said she didn't think the joke was inappropriate.
"You infer what you want to infer, but I never said assassinate, or kill or maim," Carroll said.
Last week, the Republican Party demanded Democrats repudiate a newspaper ad a St. Petersburg Democratic club bought that said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should be "put up against a wall" and someone should "pull the trigger." Democrats quickly denounced the ad.
Carroll's party defended her, saying the comment was made during a friendly gathering of Republicans and was much different than an angry statement published for the public to see.
"Jokes are jokes and you can take them different ways. It was funny and it was said in jest," said Joseph Agostini, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida.