FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sen. John Edwards (search) accused President Bush on Monday of "exploiting a national tragedy for personal gain" in a blistering speech preceding Bush's own address about terrorism in a state in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"George Bush today is making one last stand to con the American people into believing that he is the only one who can fight and win the war on terrorism," the Democratic vice presidential nominee said. "John Kerry (search) defended this country as a young man. He will defend this country as president of the United States."
On a day that promised to be dominated by talk of terrorism, the North Carolina senator sought to put Bush on the defensive as the president headed into what his aides called a major speech on terrorism in southern New Jersey.
Edwards, speaking at a seaside park in this battleground state, argued that Bush "claims steady leadership but offers a steady stream of failure." He accused the president of "creating a new haven for terrorists" and assailed him for failing to capture the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden.
"He will fail in the war against terrorism because he does not know how to lead," Edwards said of Bush. "George Bush's failed actions speak much louder than his words."
Accusing the president of using scare tactics, Edwards added: "George Bush is playing on people's deepest fears. He's exploiting a national tragedy for personal gain."
"One of the greatest signs of weakness and failure is to resort to the politics of fear and that's what George Bush is doing today," Edwards said.
Steve Schmidt, a Bush spokesman, said, "John Edwards is a personal-injury attorney who last week told paralyzed people that they would be able to walk again if they voted for John Kerry. They have demonstrated they will say anything to get elected."