Published October 26, 2004
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Democrat John Kerry (search) appealed to voters to elect a president — namely, him — who will "trust you with the truth," and quickened the pace of a campaign now in its final week. President Bush (search) tailored an economic pitch to conservative Democrats in Wisconsin, investing crucial hours in a state Republicans think they can nudge their way.
A three-stop western Wisconsin bus tour Tuesday offered Bush a chance to peel away soft supporters of the Democrat, the president's aides said, citing Bill Clinton's (search) star turn in the campaign a day earlier as a sign Kerry lacks luster of his own with his party's base.
Kerry, opening his day across the same state in the east, is pressing his case that Bush bungled and misled on the Iraq war and national security crises generally.
"When the president is faced with the consequences of his own bad decisions, he doesn't confront them, he tries to hide them," Kerry said in a speech prepared for delivery Tuesday in Green Bay. "The truth is, President Bush isn't leveling with the American people about why we went to war, how the war is going, or what he is doing to put Iraq on track."
And Kerry broadened the attack to declare, "Just as he has been warned about his mistakes in Iraq, George Bush has been warned time and time again about the vulnerability of our homeland security."
Kerry said he would spend an additional $60 billion over 10 years on homeland security, using the money to screen cargo for nuclear materials at ports and borders, add border patrol agents and more.
Bush lost Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes by only 5,708 ballots in 2000 and focused his efforts Tuesday in Democratic-leaning reaches of the state.
Warming up for that task in his last stop Monday, in Davenport, Iowa, Bush ditched his single-focus, national security speech of earlier events in favor of a broader pitch praising the traditions of the Democratic Party.
"The party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy is rightly remembered for confidence and resolve in times of war and in hours of crisis," Bush said. "Senator Kerry has turned his back on `pay any price' and `bear any burden.'
"And he has replaced those commitments with `wait and see' and `cut and run.' Many Democrats in this country do not recognize their party anymore. And today, I want to speak to every one of them: If you believe that America should lead with strength and purpose and confidence in our ideals, I would be honored to have your support, and I'm asking for your vote."
Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, spoke dismissively of Clinton's scene-stealing pairing with Kerry. Seven weeks after quadruple bypass heart surgery, Clinton joined Kerry at a Philadelphia rally that packed cheering supporters shoulder-to-shoulder along three city blocks.
"They had to roll Clinton out of the operating room and onto the campaign trail in order to basically help Kerry with the weaknesses he has among core Democratic constituencies," Rove said, taking liberties with his depiction of the former president as a near-invalid.
"This is not an appeal to swing voters," he said. "This is an appeal to the hard-core base of the Democratic Party, which is unenthusiastic about Senator Kerry."
Kerry had another four-state day lined up, one taking him more than 3,000 miles from Green Bay to Las Vegas, to Albuquerque, N.M., and then Sioux City, Iowa. His campaign plotted a four-day marathon to close out his campaign.
Kerry hit the theme that Bush isn't being straight with people when he spoke to about 1,000 supporters in Warren, Mich., on Monday night.
"We need a fresh start in America," Kerry said. "We need a fresh start in Iraq. We need a president who will look the American people in the eye always, and tell you the truth and trust you with the truth."
Rove declared the GOP base solid and motivated, and laid out Bush's challenge this way:
"How do we persuade people who have historically not been inclined to vote? How do we take people who have moved into a rapidly growing area, and how can we get swing Democrats and swing independents to come over for us?
"You'll see that as part of everything that we do from here on out."
Bush and Kerry are competing head on for a distinct set of battleground states — Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida among them — but other states are getting a second look, too, because of signs of fluidity.
Polls found a tightening race in Arkansas, which Bush won in 2000 and the Democrats had not seen as a serious prospect this time. New Hampshire, narrowly won by Bush in 2000, seemed to be moving Kerry's way in the final stretch.
On the other side, the contest in Hawaii was unexpectedly close, prompting the Democrats to advertise there to fend off a Bush advance.
In the nerve-racking finale, both sides watched for developments beyond the control of their playbooks, including the announcement by Supreme Court officials that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 80, is undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer and is expected to return to work next week.
Kerry delicately sought advantage in reminding Americans that the next president will probably nominate more than one justice to a closely divided court.
"We know that two or three justices will be retiring in the next years," he said in a call with black church leaders. "The Supreme Court is at stake. Affirmative action was decided by one vote. The presidency of the United States was decided by one vote."