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Kerry Criticizes Bush on Iraq, Domestic Issues - 2004-09-10

Democrat John Kerry took his presidential campaign into the key battleground state of Missouri Friday, and continued to highlight his differences with President Bush over Iraq and a range of domestic issues, including gun control.

Senator Kerry drew a contrast with the president Friday on the issue of gun control and, specifically, the federal ban on assault weapons, which is set to expire on Monday.

Mr. Kerry says special interest groups, like the National Rifle Association, have contributed millions to the Bush campaign, even as the president has said he would sign a renewal of the assault weapons ban, if it were passed by the Republican-led Congress.

"But George Bush, who says, 'I'm for that,' never pushed the Congress to pass it, never stood up, caves in to the N.R.A., gives in to the special interests, and America's streets will not be as safe because of the choice that George Bush is making. That is 'W,' wrong choice, wrong leadership for America," he said.

Senator Kerry spoke at a community center outside St. Louis, and again made the case that the war in Iraq is costing the United States billions of dollars that could be spent on expanding health care coverage and shoring up the Social Security pension system.

Democrats who attended Friday's campaign event included a large number of retirees, who said their main concern was being able to afford the rising cost of health care and prescription drugs.

Ruth Coleman lives in Affton, Missouri, and says she intends to vote for Senator Kerry. "We, definitely, in America need a change bad, because if we don't, with this administration that is in there now, we are going to go down the drain worse (be in a worse position) than we are right now," she said.

In addition to domestic issues, many voters here say they are concerned about the situation in Iraq and how long U.S. troops will have to remain there. Mary Guise made her way to the Kerry rally from Wildwood, Missouri.

"It is a concern," she said. "I think we are in a big quagmire over there that is going to be very, very difficult to get out (of), and we should be asking for the help of other countries, like Mr. Kerry believes we should."

Across the street from the event, a lone Bush supporter blasts music from his pick-up truck in a futile effort to drown it out. Don Biggerstaff says he is voting for the president because he is consistent.

"If people don't like it, he sticks to it," he said. "People like it, he sticks to it. You can count on him being there tomorrow. He will be the same tomorrow as he is today."

Mr. Kerry's trip to Missouri comes in the wake of a recent poll that indicates the president has surged to a double-digit lead in the state, which Mr. Bush narrowly won four years ago.