Vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) on Tuesday sought to blunt growing support for President Bush among women voters and others concerned about national security by campaigning with a Sept. 11 widow in two states that suffered losses in the terrorist attacks.
"When John Kerry is your president, we will find these terrorists, we will find Al Qaeda where they are, and we will crush them," Edwards told an audience at Carnegie Mellon University before traveling to campaign events in New Jersey. "I'm convinced the only people who can't see mistakes in Iraq are George Bush and Dick Cheney (search)."
Pennsylvania, where Kerry and President Bush remain in a tight race, has been a frequent campaign destination for both parties because of its closely divided electorate. One of the airliners hijacked on Sept. 11 crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania, killing its 40 passengers and crew.
That the Democrats would need to campaign in New Jersey at all is evidence of an unexpected surge of support for Bush, who once trailed Kerry by 13 percentage points but tied his rival there in a poll released last week. Nearly 700 New Jersey residents died in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Joining Edwards was Kristen Breitweiser of Middletown, N.J., a driving force behind the creation of the 9/11 commission whose husband died in the World Trade Center. She has been traveling with Edwards to show her support for the Democratic ticket.
Breitweiser's presence underscored an effort by the Kerry campaign to send voters two messages: that women worried about terrorism should reconsider their backing of the president and that someone who lost family in the Sept. 11 attacks said she believes Kerry would do a better job of protecting the nation.
Polls show voters resisting such claims and growing increasingly unsure that Kerry would be a strong leader. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday had Bush leading Kerry by 6 percentage points, 51-45, and considered more trustworthy in handling the war in Iraq and the campaign against terrorism by double-digit margins.
Even more damaging to the Kerry effort are polls showing an increase in the number of women — more often than not Democratic voters in presidential elections — who believe Bush would be the better choice. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll last week found Bush and Kerry tied among women while the president enjoyed a 17-point lead among men.
In the close 2000 election, Al Gore led Bush among women by 11 percentage points while Bush led Gore among men by a similar margin.
Edwards' visit to New Jersey on Tuesday was the first by either candidate on the Democratic ticket. It comes a week after a Quinnipiac University poll showed Bush tied with Kerry among likely voters. Although registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 264,000 people, more than 2.6 million voters are unaffiliated in the state.
Yet polls indicate New Jersey residents are more concerned with terrorism and national security than issues in which they side more with Kerry than Bush, including health care and the economy.
Kerry also lost the advantage of a Democratic governor in New Jersey after Gov. James E. McGreevey announced in August he would resign after the election. McGreevey, who revealed he was gay and has been accused of sexual harassment by a former aide, has kept a low profile since his announcement.