Bush Says Kerry Has "Strategy Of Retreat" In Iraq, Too Liberal On Domestic Issues
Before an enthusiastic crowd in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, President Bush yesterday stepped up his attacks on Sen. Kerry, calling him a "tax-and-spend liberal" on domestic issues and accusing him of having a "strategy of retreat in Iraq." The speech was but the first step of a revised campaign strategy for Bush, who will move into sharply negative waters in the final four weeks. "Being down in the polls and losing the debate frees us up to go negative," a senior administration official told US News Bulletin. "Get ready for more." Other advisers said that with the race dead even and voters still looking Kerry over there is no reason for Bush to take the high ground. "It's back to identifying just who we think Kerry is," said a campaign insider. The officials said voters should look for harsher attacks on Kerry and stronger and more negative ads focused on Kerry's voting record in the Senate. Also, said the officials, expect to hear Bush lash Kerry in additional speeches. Two themes are will emerge. One is that Kerry's a "smooth talker" but a failed doer. That will be complimented by charges that Kerry and his agenda are "all sizzle but no steak."
Yesterday's speech received ample coverage from all three networks (which ran the story second in their line-up, after the US inspector's report concluding Saddam had no WMD), as well as print media and local TV newscasts. In a theme common to much of the coverage, the NBC Nightly News said Bush leveled "his sharpest, most personal attack yet" on Kerry. Bush wash shown saying, "You can't win a war if you don't believe in fighting. On Iraq, Senator Kerry has a strategy of retreat. I have a strategy of victory." The ABC Evening News reported that with his speech, Bush was making "a significant shift in his message and his tone." According to ABC, Bush's new tack came as he is now "under pressure from Senator Kerry in the polls." Bush "laced his tough, new attacks today, with references to John Kerry's 20-year record in the Senate. It's all part of a new Bush campaign strategy."
The AP said Bush's speech was "the kind of hard-hitting performance that Bush partisans wish he had turned in at last Thursday's debate." Two days before his next debate with Kerry, Bush "wanted to come out roaring and seize the campaign agenda, to use the presidential bullhorn to take control of the headlines for a day." The Washington Post and the New York Times both ran front-page stories on Bush's speech. The Post thought it was the President's "toughest and most comprehensive attack on" Kerry, while the Times said it "appeared to be an effort to take attention away from the 918-page report released in Washington on Wednesday detailing how Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of unconventional weapons had been dismantled years before the invasion last year."
The Scranton Times quoted Bush saying, "The non-partisan National Journal named John Kerry the most liberal member of the Senate. When the competition includes Ted Kennedy, that's saying something." The CBS Evening News, meanwhile, showed Bush commenting on Kerry's "most-liberal" status, adding, "You might even say it was hard work." That last line, which brought laughter to the audience, was in reference to Bush's much-repeated assertion ("It's hard work") during his debate with Kerry. It wasn't the President's only allusion to his debate performance. "Bruised from that and other debate moments like the famous grimace," said CBS, "Bush tried to clean himself up today, poking fun at his perceived gaffes." Bush said, "Last week in our debate, he [Kerry] once again came down firmly on every side of the Iraq war. You hear all that, and you can understand why somebody would make a face."
Democrats criticized Bush's speech, saying its sharper tone signaled "desperation" on the part of the Bush camp.