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Bush and Kerry evoke past presidents

They reach across party lines in trying to break deadlock

ONALASKA, Wis. — President Bush and Sen. John Kerry accused each other of lacking the hard-nosed resolve of Cold War presidents — from Democrat Truman to Republican Reagan — reaching across party lines a week before Election Day to try to break their campaign deadlock.

With tensions rising Tuesday in both camps, Kerry escalated his criticism of Bush over explosives missing in Iraq, asserting that the weapons could be used against American troops and citizens. He accused the president of keeping the cost of war in Iraq under wraps until after Election Day.

"What else are you keeping from the American people?" Kerry said in Green Bay.

Across the state, Bush said his rival favors "the position of weakness and inaction" contrary to "the great tradition of the Democratic Party."

A Los Angeles Times poll showed the popular vote tied, 48-48, with Bush-weary voters open to change on Iraq and the economy but harboring doubts about Kerry's ability to lead the nation against terror.

New state surveys showed the race also knotted in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the three most important battlegrounds in the race for 270 Electoral College votes.

Behind the scenes, both campaigns tweaked their stump speeches, advertising strategies and get-out-the-vote drives. In addition to Wisconsin, Bush visited Iowa while Kerry traveled to Nevada and New Mexico — all toss-up states.

After spending weeks casting Kerry as a flip-flopping liberal in TV ads, Bush planned to close the race with a 60-second commercial designed to portray himself as a trustworthy, steady leader.

The high point, according to advisers, is a clip of a choked-up Bush addressing the Republican National Convention about meeting the children of slain U.S. soldiers "who are told their dad or mom is a hero but would rather just have their dad or mom."

Kerry's latest ad accuses the Bush administration of failing to secure nearly 400 tons of explosives that are missing from a military installation south of Baghdad. "His Iraq misjudgments put our soldiers at risk, and make our country less secure," Kerry says of Bush in the ad.

He said in Green Bay the explosives "could be in the hands of terrorists, used to attack our troops or our people."

Vice President Dick Cheney responded for Bush from Florida, saying, "It is not at all clear that those explosives were even at the weapons facility when our troops arrived in the area of Baghdad."

In the battle of past presidents, Bush said Democrats Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy showed "confidence and resolve in times of war and hours of crisis," asserting that Kerry lacks such mettle.

Kerry said Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan all built strong alliances, a contrast to Bush who Kerry said "has failed in his fundamental obligation as commander in chief to make America as safe and secure as we should be."


Contributing: Nedra Pickler, Scott Lindlaw.