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Bush, Kerry Step Up Attacks - 2004-10-19

With just 15 days to go until Election Day, President Bush and Senator John Kerry are sharpening their attacks, especially on the war on terrorism. Each candidate says he is the man who can keep America safe.

This is the first U.S. presidential election since the September 11, 2001 attacks. And there is no denying their impact on the political debate.

While the Republican and Democratic candidates have shifted their attention now and then to domestic issues -- from health care to taxes to education -- they keep returning to the issue of national security.

It appears to be the core issue for voters in New Jersey. The northern part of the state borders New York City and residents there were directly affected by the attack on the World Trade Center.

Although it has long been a Democratic Party stronghold, the presidential race in New Jersey is fairly close. President Bush told voters there that America faces a crucial choice. "And in this time of choosing, I want all Americans to know you can count on me to fight our enemies and defend our freedom!"

Mr. Bush charged John Kerry will not take action needed to keep America safe. And once again, the president stressed the link between the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

"My opponent finally has settled on a strategy -- a strategy of retreat. He has talked about artificial timetables to pull our troops out of Iraq. He has sent the signal that America's overriding goal in Iraq would be to leave even though the job is not done," he said.

Senator Kerry has talked about bringing American troops home, but has said he will not do so until conditions are right. At campaign events in Florida, he charged President Bush rushed to war without a plan to keep the peace and ignored top military commanders who requested more troops and equipment.

"I will never send our soldiers into harm's way without the best training and equipment in the world. And I will never allow our policy to be hijacked by ideologues at the expense of the best advice of our military professional commanders," he said.

The Democratic Party nominee told a rally in Tampa that the president has misled the American people. "Our troops deserve the truth, the American people deserve the truth and we deserve a fresh start and new credibility with the ability to be successful in Iraq."

He spoke as Floridians began a new election experiment.

In Florida and several other states, voters were given the option of casting early ballots at special polling places.

The Florida program was put in place after the 2000 presidential election, which was plagued by voting problems in many parts of the state. After a lengthy court battle, Mr. Bush was declared the winner over Al Gore, and Florida's electoral votes enabled him to gain the presidency.

Statewide polls show the current race in Florida is virtually tied. Nationally, some surveys show a comfortable lead for President Bush while others depict a race that remains far too close to call.