CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Sen. John Edwards (search) accused Vice President Dick Cheney (search) of "un-American" campaign rhetoric on Wednesday, answering the Republican's day-old charge that a vote for the Democratic ticket this fall could open the United States to another terrorist attack.
"This statement by the vice president of the United States was intended to divide us," said Edwards, vice presidential running mate to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. "It was calculated to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people. It's wrong and it's un-American."
The Democrat called on President Bush to renounce Cheney's comments.
Kerry responded hours later after an appearance in Minneapolis, saying the comment shows Bush and Cheney will say anything and do anything to win the election.
"It is outrageous and shameful to make the war on terror an instrument of their politics in this race," Kerry said in an interview with a CBS-affiliated television station. "I defended this country when I was a young man, and they chose not to. And I will defend this country as president of the United States. Let that be clear."
Edwards commented a day after Cheney said at a town hall meeting in Iowa, "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States."
Bush declined to comment on Cheney's statement when asked about it Wednesday. Spokesman Scott McClellan said, "There are differences in how the two candidates approach the war on terror. That's what the vice president was talking about in his remarks."
Edwards accused Cheney of going well beyond that, and reminded his audience that Bush had promised in 2000 to unite the country and restore honor and dignity to the White House.
"This statement by his vice president was not only intended to divide us. In addition to that, it was dishonorable and undignified," Edwards said. "This is a test for the president. We will see whether this president meets that test over the coming days."
Cheney was campaigning Tuesday in Des Moines when he suggested the United States, if Kerry were elected, would risk falling back into a "pre-9/11 mind-set" that terrorist attacks are criminal acts that require a reactive approach. Bush's offensive approach works to root out terrorists where they plan and train, he said.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told reporters Wednesday that he assumed Cheney's comment was based on his strong feeling that Bush has been a bold and reliable commander in chief in the war on terrorism.
"He is tough when it comes to terrorism, he will not compromise when it comes to terrorism, and it is crystal clear where he stands," Frist said. "I believe he, in using that definition of the commander in chief, would be stronger than John Kerry."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said "there isn't a shred of evidence to indicate that a terrorist attack is more likely under a Bush or Kerry administration."