HONOLULU – Invoking memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor (search), Vice President Dick Cheney (search) told a late-night campaign rally Sunday that rival John Kerry (search) neither understands nor has a plan to win today's war on terror.
In a 3,225-mile detour from the mainland battleground states, the vice president made the most of a surprise visit to traditionally Democratic Hawaii by ripping into Kerry in the final hours of the campaign.
"We are standing just a few miles from Pearl Harbor, the site of a sudden attack ... Three years ago, America faced another sudden attack," Cheney told a crowd estimated by his aides at 9,000, the vice president's biggest crowd at a campaign event.
Cheney said that "the clearest, most important difference in this campaign is simple to state: President Bush understands the war on terror and has a strategy for winning it. John Kerry does not."
Though it seems a huge task for Bush to actually win a state that has been a Democratic stronghold, Cheney's overnight trip is aimed at fueling the perception the president's re-election is assured.
Nationally, however, the latest national polls show the race to be extremely tight.
Outside the convention center where Cheney spoke, some 80 people gathered across the street carrying anti-war and Kerry-Edwards signs in support of Kerry and running mate John Edwards. Several demonstrators inside the convention center briefly interrupted Cheney's remarks, but they were drowned out by audience chants of "four more years."
The vice president's remarks on national security paralleled the basic campaign speech he has been giving for months, with the added punch of tying together the sneak attack that began U.S. involvement in World War II with the attacks of Sept. 11.
The Kerry campaign says the senator has spent the better part of his career working on behalf of the military and that he has been concerned about the consequences of giving the president a blank check in Iraq. "We're seeing the consequences of that in Iraq. It's a tragedy," Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said Sunday.
Kerry has said his combat experience during the Vietnam War shows he is not the weakling that Cheney, who received deferments to avoid military service, portrays him to be. Kerry says 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."
Cheney told the cheering crowd in Honolulu, "Now in the final days of this campaign, John Kerry is running around talking tough. He's trying every which way to cover up his record of weakness on national defense. But he can't do it. It won't work."
The vice president then delivered what he tells crowds is his favorite line: "As we like to say in Wyoming, you can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but at the end of the day, it'll still be a pig!" The line draw such a roar that Cheney, as he sometimes does, asked if the crowd wanted to hear it again. They did, and he repeated it.
"If you want a president who will keep his word, and stand behind our military 100 percent of the time, send George W. Bush back for four more years," the vice president said, framing the battle against Osama bin Laden's terrorists as the most important issue facing the nation.
It has been 44 years since a major party candidate on a national ticket made a campaign stop in Hawaii and it is unprecedented this close to Election Day.
Only Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan among Republicans have won Hawaii since it became a state, but recent polls have shown Bush and Kerry in a close race.
After receiving no notice from national political figures, Hawaii and its four electoral votes are suddenly a focus of attention. Former Vice President Al Gore spoke at a rally of more than 1,200 Democrats on Friday.
"This time around, Hawaii may very well have the deciding vote," declared the former Bush foe who lost the 2000 election on a long recount in Florida finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In declaring that the Bush administration was seeing the war in Iraq through a "rose-colored lens," Gore cited retired U.S. Gen. Eric Shinseki, a native of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Shinseki's advice was ignored when he said a war in Iraq would require "hundreds of thousands of troops."
Former President Clinton did interviews with Hawaii TV stations for Kerry on Wednesday.