WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – John Kerry (search) criticized President Bush (search) on Friday for failing to capture Usama bin Laden as a new videotape of the terrorist leader surfaced just before the election. Bush accused the Democrat of "shameful" second-guessing in the face of threats by America's deadly foe.
The broadcast of the bin Laden (search) tape jolted the campaign's closing days, accentuating the terrorism theme with a reminder of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and Kerry revived his contention that Bush missed an opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden during the Afghan war.
"I believe I can run a more effective war on terror than George Bush," Kerry asserted. Bush told an Ohio rally: "My opponent continues to say things he knows are not true." He said, "It's especially shameful in light of the new tape from America's enemy."
Bush and Kerry both made hurried TV appearances after the tape emerged.
"Let me make this very clear," Bush said in Toledo, Ohio, standing next to Air Force One. "Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this."
Kerry said, "My reaction is that all of us ... are completely united."
Separately he criticized Bush for not capturing bin Laden, adding pointedly, "I believe I can run a more effective war on terror than George Bush."
Spokesman Joe Lockhart, responding to the Bush campaign's charges that the Democrat was politicizing the video, said Kerry made the critical comments of Bush during a round of satellite broadcast interviews, shortly after being told a bin Laden tape might be coming out later in the day.
"In fact it was unknown to everyone on his staff what was on the tape, and even frankly if there really was an authentic tape," Lockhart said.
Kerry has asserted throughout the campaign that U.S. forces could have run down bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001 if they had gone after him on the ground, and he has blamed Bush for the decision to let Afghan forces lead that chase.
"He didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down Osama bin Laden," Kerry said in an interview with WISN in Milwaukee. "He outsourced the job."
Bush responded, at a rally in Columbus, Ohio: "It's the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking," and he quoted his Afghan war commander, the now-retired Gen. Tommy Franks, as saying intelligence reports at the time were unclear about bin Laden's whereabouts.
Kerry's account "does not square with reality," Bush said.
It was unclear what if any impact bin Laden hoped to have on the U.S. election. While Bush vowed four years ago to get bin Laden "dead or alive," he now rarely mentions the terrorist leader, speaking mostly about deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, blamed for beheadings and other violence in Iraq.
On the videotape, aired by the Arab television station Al-Jazeera, bin Laden addresses Americans: "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands."
Bush said intelligence officials continued to analyze the tape. The administration said it believed the tape was authentic and had been made recently.
The president said, "We are at war with these terrorists and I am confident that we will prevail."
"As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists," Kerry said in Florida, standing next to his campaign plane. "They are barbarians, and I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes, period.
But he went on, in the radio interview, to question Bush's judgment in the Tora Bora chase and to say he would do a better job keeping the United States safe.
"Democrat, Republican, there's no such thing," Kerry said. "There's just America and we are all united in hunting down and capturing or killing those who conducted that raid and we always knew that that was Osama bin Laden."
"My policy is there's no such thing as negotiation with terrorists," the Democratic candidate said. "And terrorists, terrorism are going to be hunted down and killed, we are united on that."
"I am absolutely confident I have the ability to make America safer," he said.
Americans are divided on whether bin Laden is likely to be captured — ever. Four in 10 say no. People are also split on whether it is essential to capture him to successfully conclude the war on terrorism.
Bin Laden's remarks quickly overshadowed the scripted campaign events of the day for both the president and his Democratic rival, injecting new uncertainty into a race already difficult to predict.
With Bush and his wife Laura behind him on the stage in Ohio, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the spirited rally that the president was is "defending this country with all his heart and soul."
"America is back," he said. "America's back from the attack on our homeland, we are back from the attack on our economy, and we are back from the attack on our own way of life."
Increasingly, both sides have turned their attention to mobilizing for Election Day, hoping that intense voter registration drives would swell Tuesday's turnout to record levels. In Ohio, Republicans lost a court appeal to block tens of thousands of voter registrations.
Candidates for 34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats campaigned through the final few days of their races, as well. Republicans are favored to retain their majority in the House. Aides to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota said they had identified all of the estimated 10,000 undecided voters in his state by name, underscoring the closeness of his campaign for re-election.