PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – In a harsh new attack on rival John Kerry (search), President Bush (search) said Friday that if the Democratic presidential candidate "had his way," Saddam Hussein (search) would be running Iraq and threatening the safety of other nations.
Campaigning with Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (search), who praised Bush for "never wavering, never waffling," the president urged thousands of cheering supporters in Huntington, W.Va., to get new voters on the rolls before Election Day. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in West Virginia.
Miller's keynote address at the Republican convention galvanized delegates and left Democrats fuming over what they called an angry, inaccurate rant by the Georgia Democrat.
Bush was campaigning in blue-collar areas hit hard by the economic slowdown in West Virginia and Ohio. As his motorcade trundled down West Main Street in Chillicothe, Ohio, a woman held up a sign that said, "My husband's paycheck moved to China." At the start of the daylong bus tour, Bush stepped up his criticism of Kerry on Iraq.
"The newest wrinkle is that Sen. Kerry has now decided we are spending too much money in Iraq even though he criticized us earlier for not spending enough," Bush said. "One thing about Senator Kerry's position is clear. ... If he had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power and would still be a threat to our security and to the world."
Kerry has not chided Bush for spending too much money on the war but has criticized the president for engaging in "a war of choice" without obtaining more financial support from allies. The war has cost nearly $200 billion that, according to Kerry, could have been used for domestic programs.
At a question-and-answer event in Portsmouth, Ohio, where the unemployment rate this year has hit double digits, a Bush supporter told the president that Kerry attended "the school of flip flops." Bush said that Kerry and running mate John Edwards were among only four senators who voted yes to "use force but 'no' when it comes to funding the troops."
Kerry has said he voted for the $87 billion appropriation for the war when it was to be paid with revenues from rollbacks on some of Bush's tax cuts. When the Republican-controlled Senate rejected that version, Kerry and Edwards voted against it.
In response to what it described as "George Bush's distortions," the Kerry campaign said, "Dick Cheney crossed the line earlier this week, so it's no shock that George Bush is following his lead today." Cheney had remarked that "the wrong choice" by voters could lead to another attack by terrorists.
The economy in Portsmouth depends on a hospital, a handful of factories and the site of Bush's appearance, Shawnee State University. Four union members from a Portsmouth factory rode on the president's bus.
Other Appalachian counties in southern Ohio have fared worse than the Portsmouth area, with jobless rates ranging from 16 to 22 percent.
Two years ago, Huntington, W.Va., was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy until the city imposed user taxes on people who work there. And on Friday, in the latest setback, a company with 600 employees in Huntington announced in a full-page newspaper ad that it is pulling out of West Virginia. The call center company, Applied Card, is mired in a legal battle with the state attorney general's office over allegedly abusive collection methods.
"Six hundred jobs won't break the West Virginia economy," said the ad announcing the company's plans to leave.