Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is blaming President Bush's tax cuts for some of the jobs lost over the past four years. At the same time, the Massachusetts Democrat continues to defend his war record in the wake of new attacks from a group of Vietnam veterans.

Senator Kerry took his campaign to North Carolina, a state that has endured the loss of more than 160,000 manufacturing jobs since President Bush took office in 2001.

Mr. Kerry said the president's focus on tax cuts has helped wealthy Americans at the expense of the middle class. "For America to be strong in the world, we have got to be strong at home. And to be strong at home, you have got to put people to work," he said.

North Carolina is also the home of Senator Kerry's vice presidential running mate, Senator John Edwards, and recent polls suggest the normally Republican state could be up for grabs in the November election.

Despite his focus on the economy, Senator Kerry remains on the defensive over attacks from a group of veterans that accuses him of lying about his combat record in Vietnam.

The group, which calls itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has launched a second television advertisement that criticizes Senator Kerry for his anti-war activities, after his return from Vietnam in the early 1970s.

"He betrayed us in the past. How could we be loyal to him now?," the ad said.

Senator Kerry lashed out at the veterans group on Thursday, and accused it of acting as a front group for the Bush campaign.

That brought a denial from presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. "And the president has stayed focused on the issues and the choices that the voters face," he said. "That is what this ought to be about. There are some clear choices that the voters face for the future. This should not be about the past."

The New York Times reported Friday that the anti-Kerry veterans group is largely funded by Republican donors with close ties to the Bush family.

As a further counter to the attack ads from the anti-Kerry veterans, the Kerry campaign has launched a new ad of its own featuring former Green Beret Jim Rassman, who was rescued by John Kerry's swift boat in a Vietnamese river in 1969.

"All these Viet Cong were shooting at me. I expected I would be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine," he said.

Democrats emphasized Senator Kerry's war record at their national convention last month, amid indications that the public views national security and foreign policy issues as their main priority this election year.

"When it comes to terrorism, the public really agrees that there is a need for tough action in tough times, in a tough situation," said Michael Dimock, with the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press here in Washington.

Public opinion polls suggest President Bush's greatest advantage heading into the November election is the perception that he has been a strong leader in the war on terrorism. The Kerry campaign is hoping to counter that by highlighting the Democratic candidate's combat experience in Vietnam.