DAVENPORT, Iowa – Democrat John Edwards (search) said Thursday that President Bush has done too little to make the nation safer, reaching out to women voters who have said in surveys they believe Bush would do a better job than the Democrats of protecting the country.
Filling in for John Kerry (search), the Democratic presidential candidate who was nursing a voice hoarse from a campaign-trail cold, running mate Edwards said Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) allowed Usama bin Laden (search) to escape, provided too little money for port and chemical plant security, went to war in Iraq without a postwar plan and diminished U.S. standing in the world.
"The greatest tribute to those who died on Sept. 11 is to build a safer world where terrorism falls and democracy rises," Edwards said. "John Kerry and I will honor those who fell on Sept. 11 and those who have subsequently fallen in the fight for freedom by leading a relentless fight to crush terrorism and restore America as a safe, strong, respected nation once again."
In a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll, Bush and Kerry are running even among women voters, a group Kerry needs to win to have a chance in November. Gore won the women's vote by 11 percentage points in 2000.
On the question of who would do a better job of protecting the country, Bush had a 14-point lead over Kerry in an AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month.
Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, said Bush was not telling the truth about the situation in Iraq.
"George W. Bush needs to come back to planet Earth," he said. "Don't you think the American people deserve a president who will absolutely tell them the truth?"
Edwards pointed to comments Bush made earlier in the day claiming progress was being made in the war in Iraq.
"The only two people in America who believe no mistakes have been made in Iraq are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney," Edwards said. "Things are going worse and worse."
Edwards spoke before more than 500 noisy activists as he filled in for Kerry, who was resting his voice for next week's presidential debate.
He appeared with prominent female backers at an event billed as a conversation with women and families. He argued that he and Kerry are the candidates who can be trusted to keep America safer, pointing to "the incompetence of the Bush administration."
By contrast, he said, "our commitment is real and strong. We will do absolutely everything that needs to be done to keep this country safe."
"Every single day John Kerry is president of the United States, he is going to tell you the truth," Edwards pledged.
Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, described Edwards' comments as "remarkably pessimistic and defeatist."
"John Kerry's running mate took his cue from Michael Moore," Jones said of the maker of the anti-Bush documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11. "It is essential to have a commander in chief who does not vacillate and shift with the political winds."
Women joining him onstage included Kristin Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center and was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Sept. 11 commission.
When families of victims pressed Bush for an accounting, she said, he resisted.
"I voted for President Bush. I would have liked him to be my biggest ally," she said, adding that her first plane ride since Sept. 11, 2001, was with Edwards to campaign.
"The only way we will be safer in this country is if we have Senator Kerry as president," she said. "I don't say that lightly."
Also joining Edwards was Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack, who endorsed Kerry even before Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses last January.
"I want to feel safe again," Mrs. Vilsack said. "I feel safer knowing they will bring our sons and daughters home to rebuild our own communities."
Also joining Edwards was retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the Army's only female three-star general, as well as women with husbands and children in the military and families of some Sept. 11 victims.
Kennedy said she was backing Kerry and Edwards because "they have a plan" to conduct the war in Iraq.
Edwards was joined by singer Carole King at Cedar Rapids event later in the day. Before singing favorites such as "You've Got a Friend" and "I Feel the Earth Move," she enthusiastically endorsed Kerry.
"When I, as a woman, as a mom, as a grandmother, as an American citizen who happens to be famous, when I ask myself who is better qualified to lead, I know that John Kerry is a proven leader," she said as many in the crowd waved "Women for Kerry" signs.