In a scathing attack, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) accused Republicans of hiding President Bush's "record of failure" behind insults and promised a new direction for the country under a Kerry-Edwards administration.

Kerry, speaking to a midnight rally as Bush closed the GOP convention in New York with his acceptance speech, said the president was "unfit to lead this nation" because of the war in Iraq and his record on jobs, health care and energy prices.

He lashed out at the commander in chief and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) for not serving in Vietnam during the war and for comments made during the convention about Kerry's fitness to occupy the Oval Office.

"I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled America into Iraq," he told a crowd of thousands in Springfield.

Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., led a chorus of Republicans who challenged Kerry's credentials to be commander in chief, arguing that although they respected his decorated Vietnam War service, Kerry's 20-year voting record in the Senate on national security issues made him unfit for the nation's top job.

Kerry faulted the president and Republicans for not talking about "real issues" — creating jobs, improving the economy, expanding access to health care and reducing gasoline prices.

"They did everything except talk about that" at the four-day convention, Kerry said. "We've had insults, we've had anger from Republicans. And I'll tell you why," Kerry said. "Because they can'distortion."

"For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief," Kerry said. "I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified than two tours of duty."

Bush served stateside in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam. Cheney, a former secretary of defense, received five deferments and did not serve in the military.

Edwards, introducing Kerry, said voters deserve a president who will fight for them.

Of Kerry, he said: "He is a fighter and you're about to see it."