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Bush, Kerry fight war of words


WASHINGTON - Republicans tried to raise fresh doubts about John Kerry's commitment to fighting terrorism, pointing to an interview published yesterday in which the Democratic presidential nominee compared the anti-terrorism campaign to fighting organized crime.

"We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they're a nuisance," Kerry told a New York Times Magazine writer when asked what it would take for Americans to feel safe again.

"As a former law enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life," Kerry said in the interview, conducted in August and published yesterday.

President Bush has repeatedly accused Kerry of having a pre-Sept. 11 mindset on terrorism. During Friday night's debate, Bush said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, "we had to look at the world differently. After 9/11, we had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously before it comes to hurt us. In the old days, we'd see a threat and we could deal with it if we felt like it or not. But 9/11 changed it all."

The Bush campaign released a new attack ad, which it said would begin airing on cable television, alleging that Kerry can't protect America because he "doesn't understand the threat" posed by terrorism. Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie, speaking on CBS' Face the Nation, said Kerry is not "demonstrating the resolve in winning the war on terror" that Bush has shown.

Kerry's campaign fired back with its own ad, criticizing a comment Bush made in a TV interview over the summer, when he said of the war on terror: "I don't think you can win it."

The Kerry counterattack also accused the Bush administration of failing to provide more money to secure shipping containers, tunnels, bridges and chemical plants against a possible terrorist strike.

Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said the senator had been "very clear" in saying that he would conduct a more effective war on terrorism than Bush. It would combine military action with other elements, including a law enforcement component and better intelligence cooperation with other countries, to expose terrorist groups and cut off their funding.

Singer said Bush's new ad had taken Kerry's words out of context to give a "false impression of Kerry's position on the war on terror."

However, in the Times article, Matt Bai wrote that Kerry's words "seemed to throw down a big orange marker between Kerry's philosophy and the president's. Kerry, a former prosecutor, was suggesting that the war, if one could call it that, was, if not winnable, then at least controllable." Bush, he added, seemed to take a darker view, of "unending war."

The Bush campaign's renewed focus on terrorism is another effort to highlight what polls show as one of the president's strongest assets in the closely fought campaign: his leadership in fighting terrorism. Bush spent the day in seclusion at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, preparing for Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate.

Kerry, meanwhile, attended services at two black churches in South Florida, then headed to Santa Fe, N.M., for his final round of debate planning. He plans to interrupt his rehearsals today for a speech on energy policy. The address will be an opportunity for the Democrat to again criticize Bush over soaring petroleum prices, which have hit new highs this fall.

Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows, where the election in Afghanistan was among the main topics.

Edwards conceded on CBS that the largely peaceful election over the weekend had been "a good thing." But he pointed out that opium production in Afghanistan has risen sharply since the Taliban was overthrown, that significant portions of the country are still not under government control and that "some serious security issues" remain.

Edwards, who has criticized Bush for ducking a question in Friday night's debate about his three biggest mistakes as president, said one of the biggest mistakes of his own brief Senate career was believing that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But Edwards defended his vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution, saying on ABC's This Week that it was "the right thing to do" to give Bush the authority to confront Saddam Hussein but that the president abused that authority.

Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, acknowledged that there had been "some technical difficulties" in the Afghan election, mainly involving the type of ink used to mark people's hands to prevent them from voting twice. With U.S. officials among those intervening in Afghanistan to resolve allegations of election fraud, several opposition candidates appeared to be softening their initial demands that the election results be nullified.

"This was an extraordinary day for the Afghan people," Rice said. "Obviously, there are technical difficulties sometimes even in the mature democracies when it comes to elections."

The Bush campaign is hoping that U.S. voters will regard the Afghan election as a foreign policy triumph and view it in the context of the high-stakes election scheduled to be held in Iraq in three months. U.S.-led forces in Iraq have begun an offensive aimed at gaining control of a number of towns and provinces that are in the hands of insurgents. Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have said it may not be possible to hold elections in every part of Iraq because of security concerns.

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