SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – President Bush, working a southwest Missouri campaign crowd like a yell leader, blasted Democrats on Friday, saying they have no plan to keep Americans safe from terrorists.
Bush said Democrats calling for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq aren't unpatriotic, just wrong. He said Democrats who voted against legislation to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists, the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program and the Patriot Act don't understand the stakes in the War on Terror.
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"If they say they want to win the war on terror, but call for America to pull out of what Al Qaeda says is the central front in this war, ask them this question: 'What's your plan?' " Bush said at a rally for Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, who is seeking re-election in one of the tightest races in the nation.
"The truth is the Democrats can't answer that question," Bush said. "Harsh criticism is not a plan for victory. Second guessing is not a strategy.
"We have a plan for victory. We have a plan to secure this country, and part of our plan is to send Jim Talent back to the United States Senate."
Bush, who is making two campaign stops in Missouri before traveling to Iowa and Colorado, is on a six-day campaign swing that ends on Election Day. Talent's re-election is critical to the Republican Party effort to retain control of Congress. Democrats need a net gain of six seats to reclaim control of the Senate.
Several thousand GOP supporters cheered Bush as he strode into the darkened Springfield Exposition Center where volunteers handed out signs that said "Cards fans for Talent" -- a reference to the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series victory.
Talent is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Claire McCaskill, the state auditor. The race is a statistical dead heat in most polls.
Missouri's Senate race is intertwined with a ballot measure that would engrave the right to conduct embryonic stem cell research into the state constitution. McCaskill supports it; Talent opposes it. Bush didn't mention it.
The president remained upbeat about a GOP victory next Tuesday, while Democrats are expressing growing optimism that their long season out of power might soon end.
Democrats say they are ahead in many races because of the public's growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. And polls show that a clear majority of Americans see the war as a mistake and far fewer support the president's handling of it.
Violence against Iraqis has grown unabated in the past month, with more than 1,300 killed since Oct. 1. Fearing more bloodshed after Sunday's expected announcement of a verdict in the trial of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Iraq's defense minister has canceled leave for all army officers.
Bush, undeterred, continued to argue that Democrats had no plan to win in Iraq.
"On this important issue of Iraq and the global war on terror, the Democrats have taken a calculated gamble. They believe the only way they can win this election is to criticize and offer no plan of their own," Bush said. Then he added sarcastically: "So far, they've refused to tell how they plan to secure this country, but there's four days left" before the election.
The McCaskill campaign disagrees.
"President Bush has never had a plan to win in Iraq, and now that Democrats and Republicans are all calling for change, he's desperately clinging to his stay the course," said Adrianne Marsh, a spokeswoman for McCaskill who was finishing a four-day statewide tour and plans to begin a 24-hour campaign blitz in St. Louis Friday evening. "It's unfortunate that Talent is one of the only Republicans who agrees."
Previewing his weekend at his Texas ranch, Bush said he planned to be with his wife, Laura, to celebrate her birthday on Saturday.
"I'm going to celebrate with her her 60th birthday party, but don't tell anybody," he told the thousands of supporters. "I want it to be a surprise."