ROCHESTER, Minn. – Terrorists lying in wait to attack. Planes falling from the sky. Ships blowing up. The candidates in the race for president are painting some scary scenarios to motivate voters.
In the first presidential campaign in a new age of terrorist threats, President Bush (search) and Sen. John Kerry (search) are speaking to the public's worst collective nightmares, making the case that the next occupant of the White House will make the difference in whether the country is safe or at greater risk.
Kerry's new vision of doomsday is based on reports that the Bush administration failed to secure nearly 400 tons of explosives missing from a military installation in Iraq. He accuses the Bush campaign of playing on people's fears while saying he speaks to their hopes, but in the same speech he'll raise the dangers of the missing explosives.
"Folks, these are the kind of explosives that took down Pan Am 103," Kerry said this week in Las Vegas, a reference to the 1988 plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. "These are the kind of explosives that blew up the USS Cole (search). And there are enough explosives there to harm America."
Bush says his opponent doesn't know what he's talking about on the missing weapons cache, then paints his own frightening picture of a world with Kerry as the U.S. president.
"I want to remind the American people if Senator Kerry had his way, we would still be taking our global test, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, he would control all those weapons and explosives, and could have shared them with our terrorist enemies," Bush said Wednesday.
The central theme of Bush's re-election campaign long has been to make it seem dangerous to elect Kerry. But he's sharpened his attacks since a speech Oct. 18 in which he accused Kerry of having a dangerous mind-set that would permit a response to terrorism "only after America is hit."
Bush touts himself as a steady leader and better protector while reminding audiences of the horror of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
"The terrorists who killed thousands are still dangerous and they are determined to strike again," Bush said Wednesday in Lititz, Pa. "And the outcome of this election will set the direction of the war against the terrorists. ... If America shows uncertainty or weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy."
Kerry says his combat experience during the Vietnam War shows he is not the weakling Bush portrays him to be. Kerry said he will fight the terrorists "with all of the intensity with which I went at it, and I went at it, and the guys who were on my boats will tell you how we went at it. We fought."
Not all the warnings are about death and destruction, but they are still meant to frighten.
Bush says Kerry's proposals cost so much that he would have to raise taxes on the middle class. Kerry says Bush could reinstate the military draft and plans to privatize Social Security.
Bush has said he would not do either, although he does favor allowing younger workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts. Kerry recently pledged not to raise taxes on people earning $200,000 or less.
Perhaps the scariest visions have come from Vice President Dick Cheney who, while campaigning, frequently raises the possibility of terrorists unleashing weapons of mass destruction in urban areas.
"The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever been used against us, with a biological agent, or a nuclear weapon, or a chemical weapon of some kind, able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, not just 3,000," he said in Carroll, Ohio, last week.
Cheney has said he suspects terrorists will try to disrupt Tuesday's election. He also has said that if Kerry were in charge the Soviet Union might still exist and Saddam might not just control Iraq, but the entire Persian Gulf.
Cheney's wife also stoked fear Wednesday when she introduced the vice president in Washington, Pa.
"The terrorists will try to come after us again," Lynne Cheney said. "They'll try. You know it. And I ask, 'Who do I want to have standing in the doorway ... protecting us?' It is not John Kerry."