WEIRTON, W.Va. – Thursday's campaign debate between President Bush and John Kerry will be more of a test for the incumbent than for his challenger, Kerry running mate John Edwards (search) said Wednesday.
"It's a test for whether this president is finally going to come clean and be straight with people about what's going on in Iraq," the Democratic vice presidential nominee told about 500 people at a health care center.
Kerry's campaign, on the stump and in its political advertising, has criticized Bush's handling of the Iraq war, saying he rushed to war and has no plan to quell the continued violence.
Edwards said Kerry is "in a fighting mood" and ready for the debates, which he said will help the Massachusetts senator win over voters who may have yet to see his strengths.
"His life is the picture of strength," Edwards told The Associated Press after the speech. "Leading men in battle in Vietnam. As a prosecutor, putting people behind bars. Putting more cops on the streets. Standing with John McCain (search) to find out what happened to POWs. Challenging his own party on a balanced budget.
"Between now and the election people will come to see that strength," Edwards said.
Recent polls show a tight race in West Virginia, which has five electoral votes and is sought after by both campaigns.
Bush-Cheney spokesman Brian Jones responded that while Kerry is "certainly a formidable debater, he is also someone who has continually shifted his position on the war on terror, depending on which way the political winds blow."
After the speech, Edwards visited briefly with Sam and Pauline Petriovich, whose home along Kings Creek was flooded during heavy rains from Hurricane Ivan (search). The couple said they suffered more than $200,000 worth of losses.
Sam Petriovich told Edwards that he and his neighbors are frustrated that help from the federal government had not yet arrived.
"Everybody's just devastated because they are not here, and when they are not here you get nervous and mad," Sam Petriovich said.