Candidates Look at Closing Stretch

Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards did some heavy lifting on Sunday for his ticket's push for the White House, telling FOX News Sunday that he and presidential candidate John Kerry would pull back spending before raising taxes on the middle class.

"We will not raise taxes on the middle class, as John said clearly. And we will cut back on our programs if it's necessary to make sure that that happens," Edwards said, referring to Kerry's remarks in the second presidential debate on Friday night.

Edwards, who appeared on five morning news shows on Sunday, also called Bush's criticism of Kerry as fiscally irresponsible a "distortion."

"I think the reality is John Kerry is right in the mainstream," Edwards said of his one-time primary foe and current running mate.

On Saturday, Bush told those attending a fund-raising breakfast for local candidates in St. Louis that "much of what my opponent said last night is contradicted by his own record."

Bush, who is said to have gained the most ground during Friday's debate because he had the most territory to make up after his first debate performance, mocked Kerry for his "right into the camera" pledge not to raise taxes on people making less than $200,000.

"The problem is, to keep that promise, he would have to break almost all of his other ones," Bush said to laughter.

Instant polls show that neither Bush nor Kerry gained a clear edge after Friday's wide-ranging debate in St. Louis before an audience of uncommitted voters.

Bush arrived at his 1,600-acre ranch in Texas late Saturday, where he is receiving briefings, and for the most part, taking it easy. Aides say he has no plans to continue with formal debate preparations before Wednesday's meeting at Arizona State University in Tempe. The two candidates will discuss domestic issues in that third and final match-up.

Bush-Cheney campaign aides say they expect the president to make an even bigger issue of Kerry's voting record in the Senate than was made in the first two debates, and they plan for him to underscore even more starkly the differences between the two candidates.

Meanwhile, Kerry hit the trail in Florida on Sunday, attending a Catholic mass before speaking at Friendship Mission Baptist Church in Miami alongside Rev. Al Sharpton and newly-hired campaign adviser Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Kerry received a standing ovation at the church, where he told parishioners that God was present there. After the church speech, Kerry has some down time before heading to New Mexico, where he will do his final debate preparations before Wednesday's debate.

At this late date in the race, "having him play to his base is a little puzzling to me," said Republican strategist Ed Rogers.

Both candidates have been appearing before maximum capacity crowds on the campaign trail. On Saturday, Bush spoke before 7,000 people in Waterloo, Iowa, a must-win state for Kerry. Democrat Al Gore won Iowa in 2000, but polls show the state too close to call this year.

In Davie, Fla., on Saturday, about 200 people were not able to get into the full auditorium where Kerry held a town hall-style discussion. They watched the meeting on a big screen TV just outside the back of the gymnasium. Bush won Florida by a hair in 2000, and it is considered a crucial battleground with its 27 electoral college votes.

Liz Trotta, a FOX News contributor, said that neither candidate can afford to make a mistake in the third debate because it is the final match-up before the election on Nov. 2.

"They may try to shore up what they already have, use their on-the-stump lines and not make too many waves," she said. "Kerry still has the momentum, the conventional wisdom says, and the conventional media says, so Bush still has work to do."

While Bush enjoyed the down time on Sunday, the Republican National Committee released a new web video that charged Kerry with a constantly shifting position on the nation's security.

"Senator Kerry's contradictions have evaporated his credibility and his most recent positions are both naive and dangerous for America's security," said RNC Communications Director Jim Dyke.

Kerry "doesn't pass the credibility test," Bush said Saturday. In his weekly radio address, the president argued that his rival's proposals would "weaken America and make the world more dangerous."

Edwards said on Sunday that invading Iraq was an unnecessary response when plenty of other threats are occuring all over the world.

"What we have to do is we have to confront these threats as they arise, and I might add, on top of that, if you look at what's happened while this president has been in office, of the three countries that are a part of the axis of evil … we invaded one of those three that doesn't have nuclear weapons," he told FOX News Sunday.

Kerry advisers said the Massachusetts senator plans intense attacks in the coming days over domestic issues, including job losses, rising health care costs, and stem-cell research, in the run-up to Wednesday's debate.