KENDALL, Fla. – Sen. John Edwards (search) accused President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) of "using our troops as shields to protect their own jobs," hitting back at the president's claim that Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) was making wild charges about the circumstances of a cache of missing explosives in Iraq.
"Why did George Bush take three days to finally say something about 380 tons of missing explosives?" Edwards said. "They did nothing, nothing to secure them and now they're gone. And we don't know who has them. It's possible terrorists have them."
"And, what did George Bush have to say about this? He said that John Kerry doesn't support the troops."
In a dubious voice and shaking his head, Edwards asked from his platform in the middle of supporters in a gymnasium: "Aren't we sick and tired of George Bush and Dick Cheney using our troops as shields to protect their own jobs?"
The theft of the explosives from an Iraqi military depot has dominated the closing week of the presidential campaign. Kerry and Edwards have charged that the loss is an example of the administration being out of touch with the turmoil in Iraq and being incompetent in winning peace.
On Wednesday while campaigning in Lititz, Pa., Bush addressed the issue for the first time and criticized Kerry. "The senator is making wild charges about missing explosives," the president said. "The senator is denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts."
In this Miami suburb, Edwards answered: "Here's the truth, and the American people know it. Our troops, our military did their job. George Bush is not doing his job."
Edwards also spent the day scolding Bush for invoking the names of Democratic presidents and accusing Bush of leading by "fear and failure."
Bush, seeking crossover votes from the opposition, contends that today's Democratic Party and its nominee have little in common with Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. The message: Kerry doesn't measure up.
"During the last 20 years, in key moments of challenge and decision for America, Senator Kerry has chosen the position of weakness and inaction. With that record, he stands in opposition not just to me, but to the great tradition of the Democratic Party," Bush said in Findlay, Ohio.
Edwards said Bush was comparing himself to those former presidents, and said later in Clearwater, Fla.: "Those are the Democratic presidents who led with a powerful combination of strength and hope. George Bush's combination is fear and failure."
Edwards said Bush's record wouldn't make Republican presidents like Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan proud and would shame even Herbert Hoover. The Democratic campaign often cites the Depression-era president because Hoover, like Bush, oversaw a net loss of jobs while in office.
Bush asks supporters to bring to the polls "discerning Democrats" like Sen. Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat who campaigned with Bush on Wednesday in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"Just because he stands with Zell Miller and campaigns in a Democratic county, it doesn't make you a friend of Democrats," Edwards said. "It shows a sign of desperation."
Brian Jones, a Bush campaign spokesman, said Bush is reaching out to Democrats, as he has throughout the campaign, because Kerry has "drifted so far away form any of the core principles that Democrats consider important."