BOSTON – Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry (search) said President Bush (search) has a secret plan to call up more National Guard and Reserve troops immediately after the election, an allegation that the Bush campaign called "false and ridiculous."
Kerry issued the charge while campaigning Friday in Albuquerque, N.M., as he criticized the president of glossing over a worsening conflict in Iraq.
"He won't tell us what congressional leaders are now saying, that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and Guard units immediately after the election," Kerry said. "Hide it from people through the election, then make the move."
Republicans said Kerry was making a baseless charge to cover up his inconsistent positions on Iraq. "Desperate candidates are generally not the most accurate sources of information on these issues," said New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, adding that the Senate defense spending committee that he serves on hasn't been notified of any such plans.
But Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., ranking member on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (search) and a former Marine who served in Vietnam, said he had learned through conversations with Pentagon officials that beginning in November, "the Bush administration plans to call up large numbers of the military Guard and Reserves, to include plans that they previously had put off to call up the Individual Ready Reserve."
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Rodney said, "There is no force increase that is expected."
The Army is on target to rotate into Iraq the same number of soldiers who will be leaving over the next six months, and all National Guard and Reserve units that are expected to be mobilized for the next rotation have been notified, Rodney said.
Kerry's "conspiracy theory ... is completely irresponsible," Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "John Kerry didn't launch this attack when he spoke to the National Guard because he knows they know it is false and ridiculous."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Kerry: "He's struggling to explain his incoherent positions on Iraq. He's engaging in baseless attacks."
While Bush has been campaigning as the best candidate to deter terrorists and protect the nation, Kerry portrayed him as out of touch with the situation in Iraq.
"With all due respect to the president, has he turned on the evening news lately? Does he read the newspapers?" Kerry said. "Does he really know what's happening? Is he talking about the same war that the rest of us are talking about?"
Other Democrats joined Kerry in trying to drown out Bush's message on Iraq.
"It's clear that this administration didn't know what it was getting into, or else they grossly misrepresented the facts to the American people," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "In either case, staying the course is not an option."
Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, campaigning for Kerry in Pennsylvania, said that in spite of bleak national intelligence estimates on Iraq, Bush still "goes out misrepresenting and distorting the progress that's being made over there."
Kerry said the president was avoiding hard truths about casualties, new insurgencies and troop shortages. "He won't tell us that, day by day, we're running out of soldiers and that we're now resorted to a backdoor draft of our reservists and our National Guard."