President Bush (search) and John Kerry (search) took their campaign messages to Midwestern battleground states Thursday as they continued to spar over how to serve U.S. troops overseas and what happened to a cache of explosives in Iraq.
Bush accused Kerry of being willing to "say anything" to get elected, while the Massachusetts senator charged the president with dereliction of his duty as commander in chief and not owning up to the alleged blunder.
Reports of an estimated 380 tons of explosive ammunition that disappeared from a munitions depot has proven to be a lightning rod in this year's presidential election. But questions continue to surface regarding exactly how much, and when, the ammunition went missing.
Click here for Thursday's edition of FOXNews.com's daily campaign digest, Trail Tales.
Democrats have slammed Bush on the issue, saying it's one more example of how he's unfit to be commander in chief, while Republicans have charged Kerry with using allegations doubted by even his own advisers and exploiting them for political reasons.
"When the Bay of Pigs went sour, John Kennedy had the courage to look America in the eye and say, 'I take responsibility, it's my fault,'" Kerry said Thursday, referring to the bungled invasion of Cuba in 1961. "John Kennedy knew how to take responsibility for the mistakes he made and, Mr. President, it's long since time for you to start taking responsibility for the mistakes you made."
At a later stop in Madison, Wis., the Democratic candidate said: "Here's the bottom line: they're [weapons] not where they're supposed to be. You [Bush] were warned to guard them, you didn't guard them … according to President Bush's own words, he shouldn't be commander in chief and I couldn't agree more."
As Bush began his day in Saginaw, Mich., he said of Kerry, "A president cannot blow in the wind."
"Senator Kerry has taken a lot of different positions, but he's rarely taken a stand," the president added. "Consistency is not the senator's strong suit."
He later charged Kerry with "attacking" the U.S. military in Iraq "with complete disregard for the facts."
"Senator Kerry will say anything to get elected," Bush continued. "The senator's willingness to trade principle for political convenience makes it clear that John Kerry is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time."
The President and The Boss
Bush is stumping in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Kerry was focusing on Ohio and Wisconsin before swinging south to spend Friday in Florida.
The two men are in a statistical dead heat in Ohio — a state Bush won four years ago. Al Gore won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2000.
After speaking Thursday morning in Saginaw, Mich., Bush headed to Ohio for a couple of stops before heading to Pennsylvania.
Michigan is a Democratic prize that the Republicans would love to take away. Its 17 electoral votes were pretty much put in Kerry's pocket in early polls, but the race has since tightened. A Knight-Ridder poll makes it a statistical dead heat, with Kerry holding the slightest edge.
Bush campaign officials think the president's appeal on social issues, such as a ban on gay marriage and the judicially suspended ban on partial-birth abortion, as well as his warnings about entrusting Kerry with the war against terrorism, can overcome the damage caused by the economic slump the state has suffered.
The president's theme of the day is leadership and will focus on three things: consistency versus political calculation/inconsistency; compassionate conservatism versus out-of-mainstream philosophy; and a record of accomplishment versus no record of accomplishment. Friday's theme will focus on Bush's presidency, according to campaign staffers.
Tommy Franks, the former Central Command chief who led U.S. forces during the war with Iraq, introduced Bush at a rally in Westlake, Ohio, later Thursday, where the president honed in on health care.
During the presidential debates, Kerry at one point looked directly into the camera and said, 'the government doesn't have anything to do with that,' Bush said. "I could barely contain myself," the Republican candidate added, poking fun at criticism heaped on him for making faces at various Kerry statements during the debates. "The government has got a lot to do with his health care plan -- 85 percent of the people would end up on government insurance ... the wrong prescription for our family's health care is the federal control of health care."
Just in case Bush has to do without Ohio's 20 electoral votes, he's still pushing for Pennsylvania's 21; he's been there more than 40 times.
On Kerry's trail, rocker Bruce Springsteen joined the Democratic candidate Thursday in Madison, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio, where he sang a few tunes. Kerry has been using Springsteen's "No Retreat, No Surrender" as a campaign theme song. Rocker John Bon Jovi also joined the candidate on Wednesday.
Kerry took the stage at the University of Toledo in Ohio on Thursday, complete with a Boston Red Sox hat, and told the audience he was a little hoarse from cheering for the Sox, who won the World Series on Wednesday.
"I've been rooting for this day since I was a kid," the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. "I couldn't be more thrilled for the team and for all the fans who stuck by the Red Sox year after year after year. This Red Sox team came back against all odds and showed America what heart is. In 2004, the Red Sox are America's team."
Although more reports are surfacing questioning just how many explosives may have disappeared — and when — from the Al Qaqaa weapons facility in Yousefiya, the issue continued to be prominent on the trail on Thursday.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, who has been stumping with Bush, said in a television interview Thursday that the troops in Iraq bore the responsibility for searching for the explosives, not the president, and said no one knows if any mistakes were made.
"John Kerry wants to pretend we do know what happened," Guiliani told NBC. "We don't know what happened. The best possibility is that those explosives were gone even before the troops got there ... at least it's an equal possibility. John Kerry hasn't admitted that. Instead, John Kerry became an attack dog. He immediately began attacking the president."
Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart issued a statement in response, saying: "Early this morning, we learned the Bush campaign's latest strategy for dealing with the missing explosives in Iraq. Today, the Bush campaign booked its number one surrogate and convention keynoter, Rudy Guiliani, on America's top-rated morning show and his message was clear, simple and incredible. He said: 'The actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?'
"This is just the latest example of the excuse presidency where the buck stops any place but the Oval Office."
Cheney was in Schofield, Wis., an area that is trending Republican and that Bush won by 2,000 votes four years ago, where he said Thursday that Kerry was "dead wrong" on the explosives issue. He's lately been trying to make inroads in a couple of key swing areas while on the campaign trail.
On his own stump in Duluth, Minn., Edwards said "our men and women in uniform did their job — George Bush didn't do his job."
"As he has done over and over for the past four years, George Bush refuses to step up and take responsibility," Edwards told supporters at a rally at the University of Minnesota.
Kerry has said Bush's response to the missing explosives and other un-rosy activities going on in Iraq consists of "dodging and bobbing and weaving," while Bush has said his opponent's likely plan of action in dealing with crises is: "wait and see and cut and run."
Bush/Cheney senior campaign adviser, Mary Matalin, told FOX News that Kerry picking up the missing ammo ball and running with it is "a pretty strategic blunder going into the last five days here ... he'll say anything."
"His biggest blunder is, he's still failed, with five days to go, to provide a reason to vote for him," Matalin continued. "He has yet to be positive. .. when people get up Tuesday morning to make that final choice -- they want to vote for something, not against."
She said the idea what someone could have up and gone with 380 tons of ammunition after U.S. troops entered the country isn't even feasible.
"It's not like you're sticking it your pants or your socks," she said. "It's like running around [with the ammunition on] the LA freeway with our trucks and our tanks all over."
Former Louisiana congressman, Rep. Bob Livingston, R, said Kerry has to make more moves to garner support from the U.S. military.
"There's a strong feeling among the American military that he virtually hates them," Livingston told FOX News, bringing up Kerry's post-Vietnam congressional testimony and his anti-war rhetoric. "He's been attacking the military and this arms deal in Iraq just shows exactly that. He went off half-cocked on a deal with the New York Times and with CBS news on a story that simply wasn't true ... I think that just shows that he's just not responsible enough to be in charge of the armed forces."
FOX News' Wendell Goler, Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.