President Bush and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry are campaigning hard in states where the race for the White House is close, focusing both on Iraq and key domestic issues. Mr. Bush spent Wednesday courting votes in Pennsylvania, while Senator Kerry concentrated on Florida.
They devoted most of their remarks on the road to matters like providing better schools for the nation's children and covering the cost of health care for the elderly. But Iraq continues to hang over both campaigns. It is the issue that will not go away.
In a Philadelphia suburb, the president interrupted a discussion of education policy to talk about Iraq's place in the war on terrorism. He said John Kerry is a pessimist who does not believe freedom can take root in Iraqi soil.
"You cannot expect the Iraqi people to stand up and do the hard work of democracy if you are pessimistic about their ability to govern themselves," said Mr. Bush.
In an unusual move, Vice President Dick Cheney went before reporters in the halls of the U.S. Congress and read a statement re-enforcing that message.
"The choice the American people will make on November 2 is whether we will continue with the tough, aggressive and effective policies of this administration, or revert back to the pre-9/ll mindset by electing someone whose views on these issues are marked by indecision, confusion and contradiction," said Mr. Cheney.
Senator Kerry responded during a meeting with voters in West Palm Beach, Florida.
"Today, the president made some comments on Iraq," he said. "Once again, he is avoiding the truth and the reality of what is happening. I am an optimist about what could be achieved there. I am an optimist about what our young men and women deserve. They are the best fighting forces in the world."
He called the president stubborn and ideological and said the Bush administration is not being totally honest about both the war and its handling of the nation's biggest domestic problems.
Senator Kerry made specific mention of the massive government programs that help the elderly by providing retirement benefits and health care subsidies. Florida, which played a crucial role in the 2000 election, has a large population of senior citizens.
It is also the site of the first debate between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. The session, which will center on foreign policy, will take place next Thursday in Miami.