JANESVILLE, Wisc. – Democrat John Kerry (search) wrongly questioned the credibility of the interim Iraqi leader, and "you can't lead this country" while undercutting an ally, President Bush said Friday.
Bush and interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi (search) had hopeful words for the future of Iraq a day earlier, which Kerry characterized as putting the "best face" on a Bush administration policy in Iraq that has gone wrong.
"This brave man came to our country to talk about how he's risking his life for a free Iraq, which helps America," Bush said at a campaign event in battleground Wisconsin. "And Senator Kerry held a press conference and questioned Mr. Allawi's credibility. You can't lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility."
Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic nominee, said the president is trying to change the subject.
"George Bush has failed to be up front with the American people about what's going on in Iraq, offering fantasyland descriptions of the situation on the ground," he said. "Facts can be stubborn things and when there's a gap between the reality and the words coming out of the White House, we are going to point them out."
For the second day in a row, Vice President Cheney also criticized Kerry for his remarks on Allawi.
"I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage," Cheney said at an event Friday morning in Lafayette, La. "Ayad Allawi is our ally. He stands beside us in the war against terror. John Kerry is trying to tear him down and to trash all the good that has been accomplished, and his words are destructive."
In his remarks Thursday, Kerry said Allawi's optimistic assessment of postwar Iraq was contradicted by his own past statements as well as the reality on the ground.
"I think the prime minister is obviously contradicting his own statement of a few days ago, where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country," Kerry said. "The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy, but the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story."
Bush was also campaigning Friday in Racine. By evening, Bush was to be at his Crawford, Texas, ranch for a weekend of cramming for next Thursday's debate with Kerry, the first of the presidential campaign.
The last Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin was Ronald Reagan in 1984. But the traditionally Democratic state has grown more Republican in recent years. Democrat Al Gore won it four years ago, but only by 5,708 votes.
That has both campaigns aggressively pursuing the state's 10 electoral votes. Bush's Friday stop was his 16th in the state. An ABC News poll taken last week showed Bush leading Kerry by 10 percentage points in Wisconsin.
Kerry has made eight stops in Wisconsin, and he plans to camp out at a Wisconsin resort next week to prepare for the debate.
Mike Sheridan, president of the United Auto Workers local in Janesville, said union members would use Friday's visit to show their support for Kerry. "I think it will fire up anti-Bush sentiment even more," Sheridan told the Janesville Gazette.
In Janesville, Bush was met by about 250 protesters waving signs that said "Like father, like son. One term" and "We need good jobs now" and "Show us the jobs."
Wisconsin is one of the few battleground states that has gained jobs since Bush took office. The unemployment rate is up nearly a percentage point, but Labor Department records show a gain of 200 jobs since January 2001.