WASHINGTON – With the presidential campaigns reaching fever pitch, John Kerry (search) and President Bush (search) traded barbs Tuesday over job creation and the war in Iraq, the continuing unpredictability of which is sure to be a major factor determining who wins on Nov. 2.
Both candidates are using their busy schedules to hit each other on issues that they claim they have the advantage on among voters. Bush was on a bus tour throughout rural Missouri, where he was repeating his positions on the economy and war just as the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq reached 1,000.
"We remember, honor and mourn the loss of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom. We also remember those who lost their lives on September 11. The best way to remember to honor all those who have lost their lives in the War on Terrorism is to continue to wage a broad war and spread freedom throughout a dangerous part of the world, so that we can transform that region of the world and make the world more safe and make Americans more secure," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Bush has not commented on the death toll, but when asked about how he intends to help families who lost a loved one in Iraq (search), he said he would support these families with prayers and survivor benefits while finishing the job in Iraq.
"My promise to them is that we will complete the mission so that their child or their husband or wife has not died in vain. And that mission is to leave behind another world," Bush said in Lee's Summit, Mo.
Landing in Erlanger, Ky., on his way to Cincinnati, Ohio, Kerry mourned the milestone.
"I think that the first thing every American wants to say today is how deeply we each feel the loss, how much this means to all of us as Americans, the sacrifice we feel on a very personal level. ... And we are determined that as a nation ...all of us will always stand up and fight for what they fought for and their sacrifice will not be in vain. We are committed to making the right decisions in Iraq and the right decisions for them here at home, and that is the way we will honor their sacrifice," he said.
Earlier in the day, however, Kerry declared the decision to go to war in Iraq an error, saying the president had sent U.S. troops to the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Bush fired back at that, calling Kerry's remarks another switch in position by a senator who originally voted to give the president the authority to act in Iraq (search).
"He woke up yesterday morning with yet another new position. And this one is not even his own. It is that of his onetime rival, Howard Dean. He even used the same words as Howard Dean. No matter how many times Sen. Kerry flip-flops, we were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein (search ) from power," Bush said at an outdoor rally in Lee's Summit.
The Dean reference alludes to the line the former Vermont governor used in February 2003, when he said Bush was focused on "the wrong war at the wrong time" concerning Iraq.
War and Economy, Economy and War
The vice presidential candidates were also all over the campaign trail on Tuesday. Stumping in Iowa, Vice President Dick Cheney said that an America led by Kerry and Edwards would be more vulnerable to terrorism.
This charge elicited a quick response from Edwards, who was campaigning in Michigan and Ohio.
"Protecting America from vicious terrorists is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it's an American issue and Dick Cheney and George Bush should know that. John Kerry and I will keep America safe, and we will not divide the American people to do it," Edwards said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Only George W. Bush could celebrate over a record budget deficit of $422 billion, a loss of 1.6 million jobs and Medicare premiums that are up by a record 17 percent," Kerry said in a town hall meeting in Greensboro, N.C. "W stands for wrong — the wrong direction for America.
"Because of George Bush's wrong choices, this country is continuing to ship good jobs overseas — jobs with good wages and good benefits," Kerry said. "All across America, companies have shut their doors, putting hardworking people out of a job, leaving entire communities without help or hope."
Kerry took his message about jobs and outsourcing to a state with industries vulnerable to international competition, including textiles and apparel. North Carolina is also a state that the campaign sees as competitive territory since the Democrat asked North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to be his running mate.
Edwards also brings a potential vulnerability — his background as a personal injury lawyer — that Bush is probing.
Bush, campaigning in suburbs of Kansas City that he won four years ago, said that "ending junk lawsuits" is necessary to create more jobs and that "the cost to our economy of litigation is conservatively estimated to be over $230 billion a year."
Speaking to thousands of supporters, Bush said about Kerry, "I understand my opponent changes positions a lot, but for 20 years he's been one of the trial lawyers' most reliable allies in the Senate."
To create more jobs, we must stop the junk lawsuits that threaten our own businesses," Bush said during his stop in Jackson County. The president won the county over Al Gore by 1.1 percent in 2000.
"Personal injury lawyers should not get richer at the expense of hard-working Americans," Bush said.
At an event on Monday in Poplar Bluff, Mo., the president also made another one of his verbal gaffes, referring to the impact of frivolous lawsuits on the cost of health care.
"We need to do something about these frivolous lawsuits that are running up the cost of your health care and running good docs out of business," Bush said. "We've got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
In Warrensburg, Mo., on Tuesday, the Bush motorcade pulled over to the side of Route 50, where employees of the Bomag paving-equipment company were having a barbecue. A handmade sign read "President Bush paving the way for a better America."
After shaking some hands and taking a few pictures, the president filled his plate with a burger and some baked beans and grabbed a handful of chips. Some reporters spotted a bottle of Heinz ketchup and asked whether the president had ketchup on his burger.
"I've got mustard, thank you," he replied.
A Gallup Poll (search) taken Sept. 3-5 of 778 likely voters nationwide found Bush ahead by 7 points — 52 to 45. The poll has a margin of error of 4 points.
The boost for Bush in the polls is attributed to post-convention bounce, but some Democrats said the convention was disingenuous and therefore would not have a long-term boost for the GOP.
It was "a very deceptive convention where the moderate, libertarian wing of the party, which is a very small wing of the party, controlled the podium," said Vic Fazio, former Democratic representative from California.
The Kerry campaign has charged that the convention and the Bush campaign have been dishonest and characterized by smear.
"George Bush is only resorting to these attacks because he has no record to run on. These gutter politics have no place in this campaign," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, a Vietnam veteran.
The Bush campaign rejects such charges, which include a critique of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), a group to which the Bush campaign insists it has no links. However, Republican supporters are trying to play down the bump in the polls.
"We are a divided nation, it's going to be very, very close," said former Republican National Committee (search) Chairman Rich Bond. "We saw an intensity in this election that we've never seen before. I think we have a very engaged electorate. I think turnout will be very, very high."
FOX News' Peter Brownfeld and The Associated Press contributed to this report.