WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – President Bush, in a new line of criticism aimed at Sen. John Kerry (search), said Friday the choice in this presidential race boils down to who can keep American homes safer from terrorists and contended his opponent was not up to the task during wartime.
Bush said families face five choices of "great consequence" in the election — security, home budgets, quality of life, retirement and values — but argued that security tops the list.
"All progress on every other issue depends on the safety of our citizens," Bush told supporters in a retooled stump speech. "Americans will go to the polls in a time of war and ongoing threat to our country."
Eastern Pennsylvania was Bush's first stop on a day of campaigning in which he's hitting three showdown states — Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Winning all three would amount to a political trifecta: they account for one-fourth of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Pennsylvania is the only one of the three that Bush lost to Democrat Al Gore (search) in 2000. A new poll of likely voters in Pennsylvania found 51 percent supporting Kerry and 46 percent favoring Bush.
Bush reminded voters that this is the first election since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and said the threat has not subsided.
"The enemies who killed thousands of innocent people are still dangerous and determined to strike us again," he said. If terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi wasn't busy fighting American forces in Iraq, Bush asked sarcastically, does Kerry think they'd be "opening a small business?"
Bush said Kerry considers the war on terror primarily a law enforcement and intelligence-gathering operation, a frequent charge on the campaign trail that Kerry denies. One of Kerry's foreign policy advisers likened it to the metaphorical "war on poverty," Bush said.
"I've got news," Bush said. "Anyone who thinks we're fighting a metaphor does not understand the enemy we face and has no idea how to win the war and keep America secure."
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said Bush's new stump speech is as "dishonest as the old one" and added, "Voting for George Bush basically means voting for the same policies that have taken us in the wrong direction."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Friday he disagreed with Bush's assertion that Kerry had "a fundamental misunderstanding" of the war in Iraq but affirmed his support for Bush as better qualified than Kerry to lead the United States in the war on terrorism, which McCain called "the transcendent issue of our time."
The Bush campaign released an ad Friday renewing its criticism that Kerry is weak on national security, a key theme of the re-election effort. The spot shows wolves prowling in a dense forest as a narrator says, "Weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm."
Later in the day, Bush, along with his daughter, Barbara, travels to Ohio, a state he hasn't visited for nearly three weeks. His absence had political analysts wondering about his prospects of wining the state, which carries 20 electoral votes.
Campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush hasn't been in Ohio because he has been spending time in Florida now that the hurricanes are over, participating in the debates and concentrating on states that Democrats won in 2000. Other administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have been traveling in Ohio.
Bush narrowly won Ohio in 2000, and since taking office has visited the state 28 times — more than all but Florida and Pennsylvania. He made 15 of those trips this year.
After speaking about medical liability reform and health care in Canton, Ohio, Bush flies to St. Petersburg, Fla., to attend a fund-raising dinner for the Republican National Committee. The president is campaigning Saturday in Florida.