PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Democrat John Kerry (search) ventured in to Republican leaning Virginia on Monday with a Memorial Day pitch targeting military families and a charge that President Bush "didn't learn the lessons of our generation in Vietnam."
Kerry joined Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (search) for a Memorial Day parade in Portsmouth, home to naval shipyards and other big military installations, and later promised he could get American troops home from Iraq sooner than Bush would.
"I believe I can lead us out of Iraq effectively by accomplishing goals we need to accomplish but without putting our troops at greater risk," he said
Kerry flashed a big grin at one local fan carrying a sign promoting a no CARB diet — no Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld or Bush.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt, shot back: "John Kerry never misses an opportunity to deliver a political attack. Sadly, that even seems to include Memorial Day, a day of remembrance that should be above politics."
The Kerry campaign is displaying new interest in Virginia, hardly typical territory for a Democratic presidential candidate.
"I don't care what's usual or not usual" Kerry said. "We are going after a lot of places this year."
Kerry offered himself as a "Navy guy" and promised a Kerry administration would "do better" by veterans and military personnel than has Bush.
"I think this administration has overextended our military" he said in an interview with a local TV station.
"It has turned the Guard and Reserve into almost active duty. ... even while they are creating more veterans, they are not taking care of the veterans we have the way they ought to be" he said.
Kerry's campaign accused Bush of planning budget cuts that would devastate programs for veterans, women, children and homeland security — and yet do little to reduce the nation's deficit.
A campaign statement and the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, cited recently disclosed Bush administration memos to officials who oversee the programs.
The documents, which have been previously detailed in news stories, ask the officials to prepare preliminary 2006 budgets that would cut spending after the presidential election.
The among the agencies targeted is the Veterans Affairs Department whose budget would be slashed by 3.4 percent, or about $1 billion, to $28.7 billion.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said the documents were routine procedural guidelines so officials could start gathering data about their needs for 2006 spending and not necessarily reflect the final budget blueprint.
Spratt said in an interview the administration has a predicament, because the president promised to cut the deficit in half by 2009, while making tax cuts permanent and adding additional tax reductions.
"He has to bolster homeland security and he's got a huge bill for his military and international affairs agenda," said Spratt. "...The budget can't be balanced out of nondiscretionary defense spending alone."
Spratt, who called a reporter at the Kerry campaign's request, said the cuts won't be popular, "so the administration doesn't want to bring them out in open daylight."
Spratt said the administration also is planning to cut two mandatory programs: one that provides nutritious food for poor women, infants and children and the popular Head Start (search) preschool program.
While Virginia is widely expected to be a strong state for Bush, Warner said Kerry shouldn't be counted out.
Democrats have made recent inroads in the state legislature and he said Kerry should have appeal among high-tech voters in northern Virginia, military families in the Hampton Roads area and even among textile, tobacco and other workers in southern Virginia — people coping with a changing economy.
His "message of economic revival will do very well" in Virginia, said the governor.
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, began his day with a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (search), where he crouched to slowly rub his thumb over one of the newest names to be added.
"So young," Kerry mused as he looked at a photograph of William Bronson, who died in 1976 from a seizure caused by a head wound he received in combat eight years earlier.
The Massachusetts senator worked with the Navy to have Bronson's name added to the wall_ panel 52, line 46. Kerry was joined by Bronson's mother, Barbara, and other family members as he surveyed the new names.