Rivals Go to Church, Try to Rally Voters
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – President Bush (search) spent the day at the White House Sunday while John Kerry (search) was out on the trail in Ohio, attending services at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Columbus before heading to Florida for an early voter rally.
Sunday is the second day in a row that Kerry has been to church. It is also the third Sunday in a row in which Kerry spoke with African-American voters. Last week, he attended two church services in Florida, the week before, he addressed congregants in Cleveland.
This week, Kerry repeated his calls that every vote would be counted. He also warned parishioners that Bush would hurt seniors by privatizing Social Security, a plan that Kerry says would be introduced in January if Bush is re-elected.
"Higher gas costs, with family budgets that are already stretched to the limit — you know what I am talking about. The last thing seniors need in America is the president's January surprise. That's a surprise we can all live without."
On Sunday, the Kerry campaign planned to release an ad called "January Surprise." It says Bush's plans to privatize Social Security (search) if he gets a second term, would lead to a 30 to 45 percent slash in benefits to seniors.
In addition, Kerry released a statement saying that Bush has told his wealthy donors that privatization is on the way.
"Even the president's own economic advisers say his plan will blow a $2 trillion hole in Social Security. And guess who will pay for it? You will," Kerry said in a statement aimed at seniors.
The Bush campaign has called that claim "absolutely preposterous" and said the president only wants to allow young people to choose to invest their Social Security accounts if they want to. Personal savings accounts, says the campaign, are a far cry from privatizing the entire program.
"Today, we saw another example of Kerry's willingness to say anything, as he took a false attack on the President as an opportunity to scare America's seniors," Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said.
The president also attended church services Sunday morning across from the White House, even though he was taking some down time in the presidential race in order to tend to administrative matters. He also made time to go on a bike ride in Suburban Maryland.
Nonetheless, the Bush-Cheney team was shifting into sprint mode for the last 16 days of the election, attacking Kerry as a big-spending liberal who can't be trusted to protect the country, while pushing supporters to head to the polls on Election Day.
Bush campaigned in Florida on Saturday and told voters there that he would not reinstate the draft if he wins a second term. Polls show that a majority of young voters, perhaps influenced by independent political groups supporting Kerry-Edwards, say they believe that Bush would bring back conscription.
Three groups supporting Kerry, including Win Back Respect, MoveOn Voter Fund (search) and Democracy in America, are launching an ad on Monday called "What Is His Plan." The spot suggests the president will have no options but to reinstitute the draft in order to fight the ongoing war in Iraq and any other imminent threats.
"We will not have a draft. ... The best way to avoid a draft is to vote for me," Bush told voters. Kerry has said he also opposes the draft, but that re-electing the president is the shortest route to returning the draft.
Bush on Saturday was not letting Kerry's claims get the better of him. Appearing at a rally of 10,000 supporters in Sunrise, Fla., the president noted that Sunday marked the anniversary of the vote to authorize $87 billion in emergency funding for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Kerry opposed.
"Senator Kerry apparently decided supporting the troops even while they were in harm's way was not as important as shoring up his own political position," Bush said, referring to Kerry's tight primary race against former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Bush arrived at the sports arena in rock star fashion. The president was greeted by strobe lights and swirling smoke as he entered the stadium, where red, white and blue lights spun over him. He claimed Kerry was playing politics with war.
"At a time of great threat to our country, at a time of great challenge to the world, the commander in chief must stand on principle, not the shifting sands of political convenience," Bush said to a chorus of anti-Kerry boos.
While in Florida, the president also appealed to the state's large Jewish population by signing a bill requiring the State Department to document attacks on Jews around the world. The department had opposed the measure, calling it unnecessary.
Back in Ohio, Kerry, who stopped to visit with well-wishers on a front porch on Saturday before going to apply for a hunting license for a trip this week, blamed Bush for a shortage of flu vaccines (search).
"Millions of Americans won't get their flu shots, including seniors and children," Kerry said while also blasting Bush on joblessness. "We've got people standing in line for hours on end, some of them in their 70s and 80s, hoping to be among the lucky ones to get it."
The United States is about 46 million to 48 million doses short this year of a flu vaccine after a British company, Chiron Corp. (search), said it could not fill the order because its vaccination had been contaminated. Kerry campaign surrogates said the president knew from a government report that it needed to diversify its suppliers, and that Chiron Corp. had faced other problems since 2001.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said only 10 percent of the high-risk seniors in his state, which has the highest number of elderly aged 85-plus, will get the vaccine.
Vilsack said he was concerned that the administration approaches all health care needs with the same carelessness. Kerry also accused Bush of missing signs that a flu vaccine shortage was imminent and suggested it was part of a broader problem in the Bush administration.
"What's happening with the flu vaccine is really an example of everything this administration does — deny it, pretend it's not there, and then try to hide it when it comes out and act surprised," Kerry said.
A Bush spokesman accused Kerry of hypocrisy for criticizing the president after voting against a measure that would protect vaccine manufacturers from punitive damages (search).
Kerry's campaign on Saturday released a television ad that says Bush "failed to fix the problem" of the vaccine shortage.
Endorsements and Polls
As the candidates rush from state to state in the final weeks of the campaign, they also are picking up campaign endorsements from major newspapers.
Kerry has won the backing of The New York Times, the Boston Globe, The Miami Herald, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, the Jackson Sun in Tennessee and the Modesto Bee in California.
"He is best suited to heal our painful rifts now — not just with the community of nations but within this nation, rent by social, ideological, economic and religious diversions. ... We are confident a Kerry presidency will restore both unity and strength," a Globe editorial said.
Bush picked up the support of The Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and The Carlsbad Current-Argus in New Mexico.
The president's vision is "likely to make us safer, freer and more prosperous than his rival's," wrote the Rocky Mountain News editorial staff.
If the split in endorsements isn't enough, new polls also show a close race. A Time magazine poll shows a two point difference with Bush taking 48 to Kerry's 46 in a three-way race with Ralph Nader, who garnered 3 percent.
In a Newsweek poll of 880 likely voters, Bush-Cheney won 50 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Kerry-Edwards. Nader and his running mate Peter Camejo earned 1 percent. The margin of error was 4 points in that poll.
Finally, in an ABC News tracking poll released Sunday, of 1,582 likely voters, Bush-Cheney won 50 percent compared to 46 percent for Kerry-Edwards and 2 percent for Nader-Camejo. The margin of error is 2.5 percent.
FOX News' Julie Kirtz and Molly Henneberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.