KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) on Wednesday rejected Sen. John Kerry's (search) criticism of the Bush administration for the disappearance of hundreds of tons of explosives in Iraq, saying the Democratic candidate doesn't have the answers to what happened to the weapons.
Cheney, campaigning near the heart of the most heavily contested area of Florida, said the facts surrounding the missing explosives are unclear, that Kerry "doesn't know" the answers and that Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke (search) "admitted as much." He renewed his criticism that "John Kerry will say and do anything except give our troops the backing and praise they deserve."
In a television interview Tuesday with Fox News, Holbrooke said "the U.N. inspectors had told the American military this was a major depot." He added: "I don't know what happened. I do know one thing — in most administrations the buck stops in the Oval Office."
A Kerry campaign spokesman, Phil Singer, said in a statement: "Dick Holbrooke has said he doesn't know about particular details. The last time I checked,George Bush (search) is in charge of marshaling the facts and is commander in chief."
The disclosure that nearly 400 tons of explosives have disappeared from a former Iraqi military installation has become a big issue in the final week of the campaign. The International Atomic Energy Agency (search) had warned the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq to secure the explosives, fearing they could fall into the wrong hands.
The Bush White House says the U.S. military still does not know when the materials disappeared, which raises the question of whether Saddam's regime removed the explosives.
Cheney finished up two days of vote-gathering efforts in Florida with a visit to the Interstate 4 corridor, an east-west artery that political analysts believe holds the key to winning the state.
A big chunk of Cheney's audience in an airplane hangar in Kissimmee consisted of the entire 200-member high school class from Heritage Christian School, including 15-year-old Todd Albertini, who predicted victory for a Bush-Cheney ticket he says has performed well on "everything."
The Bush-Cheney ticket won a seven-county region that includes Orlando and nearby Kissimmee by 40,285 votes four years ago over Al Gore out of more than 1.1 million votes cast for the two candidates.
The battleground area of swing voters stretches across Florida's midsection from Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico through Orlando to the Atlantic Coast city of Daytona Beach.