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Kerry, Bush campaigns battle over security

President lauds numbers on home ownership

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In the debate about John Kerry's assertion that there are world leaders rooting for him in his bid for the White House, the Bush campaign's Mark Mehlman and the Kerry camp's Jeanne Shaheen join us on "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics" at 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.
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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
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America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, locked horns Monday with the Bush campaign as the two sides traded shots over who was doing more to protect firefighters at home and soldiers abroad.

In a speech to a firefighters' union, Kerry took aim at Bush on an issue -- the war on terror -- that polls show the American public has generally awarded the president high marks on.

Kerry accused the administration of failing to provide firefighters and other emergency personnel the resources and equipment they need to do their jobs in a post-9/11 world. He also charged that military personnel in Iraq had not gotten enough body armor to protect them.

"Time and again, George Bush has failed to give those fighting the war on terror -- whether they're overseas or over here -- the weapons, equipment and support they need," Kerry, speaking in Washington, told a legislative conference of the International Association of Fire Fighters. That union has endorsed Kerry's bid for the White House.

In response, the Bush campaign said it was Kerry who was not doing all he could for either the war on terror or homeland security.

Kerry supported the congressional resolution passed in October 2002 that authorized Bush to go to war with Iraq, but opposed the $87 billion supplemental appropriation to pay for the occupation and other U.S. military commitments.

"He says he'll never send troops into harm's way without enough firepower and support, but he voted against all of the firepower and support when it mattered most for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan," Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said in a written statement.

The Pentagon says a shortage of body armor last year has been corrected, and that all soldiers in Iraq now have the protective gear.

Kerry took special note of one indelible image from the Bush presidency -- Bush, standing amid the ruins of the World Trade Center with one arm draped around a firefighter, declaring his resolve in the face of terror.

"After September 11, President Bush went to New York, stood at ground zero and stood with our firefighters," Kerry said. "I wish the president would go back now and ask whether he's stood with you since that day."

On another issue, Kerry accused the Bush administration of wasting tax money on "campaign-style videos" touting its overhaul of Medicare. Those videos are the subject of a front-page article in Monday's editions of The New York Times, which says federal investigators are scrutinizing the segments.

Sharpton endorsement

In another development, civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton announced his endorsement of Kerry, calling him a "good" person after meeting with the senator. Sharpton said he was not suspending his campaign but would continue to try to win delegates for the nominating convention.

Bush, meanwhile, turned his attention elsewhere.

With polls showing that the economy remains on the minds of most Americans, Bush visited Pennsylvania on Monday to showcase encouraging numbers on home ownership.

Bush has made more than two dozen trips to Pennsylvania since becoming president, underscoring the state's key status in the upcoming general election. It went for Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and is widely seen as a swing state this year.

The president visited a Philadelphia suburb Monday afternoon, where he toured a housing development and lauded numbers that show more than 68 percent of Americans own their homes.

"The economy is strong and getting stronger ... There's still people looking for work; make no mistake about it. but it's getting better," Bush said.

That development is encouraging news at a time when surveys show confidence in the economy is shaky.

A Gallup Poll released Monday found that 47 percent of those surveyed believe economic conditions are getting worse, compared with 44 percent who say they are getting better. The interviews with 1,005 adult Americans also found that 39 percent described themselves as satisfied with how things are going in the United States today, compared with 55 percent in January. The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Flap over Kerry line

Over the weekend, top White House officials took to the airwaves and struck back against a wave of criticism from Kerry.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," called one assertion from Kerry -- that the administration may have delayed reaching an agreement for Libya to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs for political reasons -- "absurd" and "offensive."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" that Bush asked him and Powell "to not get involved" in the political race, but he also rejected Kerry's criticism that the United States had "gone almost alone" in launching a war on Iraq. He said that "there are 34 or 35 countries with troops on the ground," and that more are contributing humanitarian assistance and money.

Kerry also defended his recent comment that some foreign leaders want him to be president. At a jobs forum Sunday in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a man insisted the senator divulge the names of those leaders.

Kerry refused, saying the leaders spoke in confidence and work with the Bush administration. The man persisted -- until ultimately acknowledging he is a Republican and supports Bush.

Powell also challenged Kerry to reveal about whom he was talking.

"If he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names," Powell said.

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