With the presidential election in the United States now less than two months away, the campaign is focusing on two issues: Iraq and the economy. The two became intertwined Tuesday as President Bush and Democratic Party nominee John Kerry sought votes in key states.
Polls indicate Iraq and the war on terrorism are the president's strong suit. They also show that he may be vulnerable on the economy, especially in industrial states where there has been considerable job loss in recent years.
And so it comes as no surprise, that when Mr. Bush goes on the campaign trail, he draws his biggest applause with remarks like these.
"Since that terrible morning of September 11, 2001, we have fought the terrorists across the earth-- not for pride, not for power, but because the lives of our citizens are at stake," he said.
During a series of campaign stops Tuesday in the state of Missouri, the president again called into question Senator Kerry's stand on Iraq. He said John Kerry has changed his position time and time again.
"No matter how many times Senator Kerry flip-flops, we were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power," said Mr. Bush.
Mr. Bush narrowly won Missouri in 2000, and while recent polls show him ahead in the state it remains very much in play. That is largely because the economic recovery in Missouri has been slower than in many other parts of the country. Here, as elsewhere, the president's message was one of hope, urging voters to stay the course and promising things will get better.
"You know, I like to say this economy is strong and getting stronger," he added. "I say so because I know where we have come from. We have endured a recession, corporate scandals, and a terrorist attack. And yet this economy is growing. It is growing because the workers are great."
But John Kerry is hitting voters with a different message: that the president is pursuing policies that are wrong for America at home and abroad.
"So this race for the presidency comes down to one simple decision," said Mr. Kerry. "Do you want four more years of moving in the wrong direction, wrong choices, or do we want to move America in a new direction and make things right with Edwards and Kerry? That is what this is about!"
At a campaign event Tuesday in North Carolina, the Massachusetts senator renewed his attacks on the president's decision to take military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"And I will tell you that of all the wrong choices, of all the wrong choices President Bush has made, the most catastrophic choice is the mess he has made in Iraq," said Mr. Kerry.
But as he has increasingly in recent days, Mr. Kerry tied the war to domestic needs, saying the cost of fighting in Iraq has drained funds that could have been used to pay for education, health care and other government services.