PHOENIXVILLE, Pa. – Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) on Sunday accused House Speaker Dennis Hastert of stooping "to the politics of fear" when he said Al Qaeda terrorists may launch another terrorist attack to swing the Nov. 2 election in Democrat John Kerry's favor.
Hastert's comments, at a fund-raiser Saturday night in his home state of Illinois, were reminiscent of recent remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney (search) that Edwards has called "un-American."
Cheney, campaigning for President Bush's re-election, recently told supporters that there is a danger terrorists will strike again "if we make the wrong choice" and that the response will be inadequate. He clarified the remarks in an interview two days later.
Edwards said Hastert had joined the "fear mongering choir."
"One clear sign of weakness and failed leadership is when a politician stoops to the politics of fear," he said, campaigning near Philadelphia. "Last night, he said something to the effect that Al Qaeda (search) wants John Kerry to be president of the United States.
"Let me say this in the simplest possible terms: When John Kerry is President of the United States, we will find Al Qaeda where they are and crush them before they can do damage to the American people," Edwards said.
Hastert's remarks about the terrorist network that is blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks came just before a $150-a-plate GOP fund-raiser in De Kalb, Ill., that featured Cheney.
"I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another, [but] I would think they would be more apt to go [for] somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops," Hastert said of Kerry.
Asked by reporters whether he believed Al Qaeda could operate better with Kerry in the White House, Hastert replied: "That's my opinion, yes."
"Instead of attacking Republicans, John Edwards should help John Kerry explain to the American people his inconsistent and contradictory positions on national security, intelligence and other defense issues," Hastert spokesman John McGovern said Sunday evening.
Edwards said Bush and his allies were continuing to play politics with the Sept. 11 attacks.
"They want to scare the American people but they will pay a price in November," he said. "None of us should be surprised by this, because just two or three weeks ago we heard what Dick Cheney said about this."
Cheney was in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 7 when he told supporters: "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, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.
Two days later, he told The Cincinnati Enquirer he was trying to say that the next president has to anticipate more terrorist attacks.
"I did not say if Kerry is elected, we will be hit by a terrorist attack," he said. "Whoever is elected president has to anticipate more attacks. My point was the question before us is: Will we have the most effective policy in place to deal with that threat? George Bush will pursue a more effective policy than John Kerry."
Earlier Sunday, Edwards urged about 400 congregants at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia to put Democrats back in the White House, saying he and Kerry will reverse the rising rate of black unemployment.
He said the rate -- which was 10.4 percent in August, according to the U.S. Labor Department, had fallen to single digits under the Clinton administration. Black unemployment
"It's back up in double digits again, going up, going up," Edwards said. "We know we can do better than that."
At an appearance later in Johnstown, Edwards attacked the recall of military reservists.
"Let me tell you what's going to happen: When John Kerry's president of the United States, we're going to get rid of this backdoor draft we have right now," said Edwards.