Facebook Twitter

Prepping for final clash

SHARE Prepping for final clash
Presidential candidate John Kerry rides his bike in Santa Fe, N.M., where he was preparing for tonight's debate with President Bush.

Presidential candidate John Kerry rides his bike in Santa Fe, N.M., where he was preparing for tonight’s debate with President Bush.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — President Bush taunted Democratic rival John Kerry and tested debate lines before friendly audiences in Colorado and Arizona on Tuesday while Kerry crammed in private for tonight's final faceoff of the campaign.

Three weeks before the election, the running mates were running hard, too. Vice President Dick Cheney defended anew the invasion of Iraq, but Sen. John Edwards said Bush and Cheney had made a mess of the war and were "out of touch with what's happening in the real world."

Kerry prepared at a Santa Fe, N.M., hotel for his third televised confrontation with Bush, but he did take time during the afternoon for a bike ride. Bush met with political advisers and his debate sparring partner, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

At a rally in Colorado Springs, Bush mocked Kerry's credibility and said the debates so far "have highlighted the clear differences between the senator and me on issues ranging from jobs to taxes to health care to the war on terror."

Again and again he repeated what has become a favorite refrain: Kerry "can run but he cannot hide" from his record.

Bush won the Rocky Mountain state by more than 8 percentage points in 2000, but Colorado has shown signs it could tilt either way this year.

While the president spoke in Colorado Springs, which went his way four years ago in the southern part of the state, Edwards campaigned in Commerce City, just northwest of Denver.

The North Carolina Democrat contended that Bush was out of touch with important issues including health care and the economy, including jobs lost to other nations.

"I'll tell you what would be good for the economy, would be to outsource George Bush," he said.

On the stump and in an interview with AP Radio, Edwards criticized administration decisions regarding Iraq. He cited U.S. deaths that have topped 1,000, and he said the country had become a magnet for terrorists.

But Cheney, campaigning in Iowa, said that under Saddam Hussein the country probably would have served as a source of weapons for terrorists.

"The situation we faced was Saddam Hussein and Iraq presented the most likely place where there could be a nexus between the terrorists on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction," Cheney said.

The chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq said Oct. 6 that he had concluded that Saddam's Iraq had produced no weapons of mass destruction after 1991 and that Iraq's ability to develop such weapons had weakened over years of U.N. sanctions. However, Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, said Saddam remained a threat and hoped to revive his weapons program if the United Nations lifted sanctions.

Bush was introduced at a campaign rally by his daughter Jenna, who read from a prepared statement that delighted the president's audience in Colorado Springs.

"He has brought to our family the same values he's brought to this country: strength, compassion and integrity," she said, as her father stood blinking at her side with a slight smile, his hands clasped before him.

For Bush, Wednesday's debate is a chance to revive in public opinion polls as the clock ticks down to Election Day. His job-approval rating slumped to 47 percent in a USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll published Tuesday — one point above the lowest point in his presidency, reached in May.

Bush's rally was invitation-only. About 100 demonstrators gathered outside, many carrying signs protesting the Iraq war. "Fear more years," read one sign. "Bush's war: how many lives per gallon?" said another.

Later Tuesday, the president spoke at a fund-raiser near Phoenix, dubbing Kerry yet again as "the most liberal member of the United States Senate" and saying he could not run from his record.

Some Democrats have expressed concern that Kerry was spending time preparing for the debates while Bush was out tearing him down. While it is true that Kerry has stayed out of the public eye before each of the debates, there have been several days during the past two weeks when Kerry's campaign schedule has been more ambitious than Bush's.

Meanwhile, in a conference call arranged by Bush's campaign, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., accused Kerry and Edwards of "shamefully trying to use the death of people like Christopher Reeve to promote falsehoods and dishonesty" about Bush's position on stem cell research. "There is no ban on stem cell research," Frist said. Referring to Bush, Frist said: "He is the first one to make it possible to do embryonic stem cell and adult stem cell using taxpayer dollars."

Reeve, an advocate of such research after, died Sunday after developing a serious bloodstream infection from a bedsore, a common problem for paralyzed people.