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Long-distance duel: Kerry, Cheney spar on national security

Cheney cites 'clear choice' in November

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In dueling high-profile speeches, the Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns traded shots over national security Wednesday.

Sen. John Kerry assailed President Bush's "failed policies" in Iraq as he unveiled what he described as a "bill of rights" for military families.(Full story)

"This president has had his chance, and this president has not delivered," Kerry declared.

Across the continent, Vice President Dick Cheney savaged Kerry's record on national security issues, saying the four-term senator from Massachusetts has provided "ample doubt" about his readiness to lead the nation.

"Whatever nuances he might fault us for neglecting, it is not an impressive record for someone who aspires to become commander in chief in this time of testing for our country," Cheney said.(Full story)

Kerry was in Washington at George Washington University: Cheney spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles, California.

Their speeches came on the same day a huge and fatal blast devastated a hotel in Baghdad, putting new focus on the U.S. occupation there.(Full story)

In a statement released by his campaign, Kerry said the "horrific bombing" shows that "the work of building a peaceful and stable Iraq is far from done," and that the U.S. commitment could not waver.

Cheney offered similar comments. "We still have work to do in Iraq, and we will see it through," Cheney said.

As indicated by Wednesday's speeches, Iraq and the broader war on terrorism promise to loom large on the campaign trail.

New poll

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday found that 55 percent of those polled say it was worth going to war against Iraq, and 43 percent said it was not.

Half said the war with Iraq has made the United States safer from terrorism -- an argument made repeatedly by the Bush administration. The poll was taken before Wednesday's fatal blast in Baghdad.

Kerry said lawmakers debating in the fall of 2002 on whether to authorize military force in Iraq were misled "in very specific terms" about the threat Iraq posed, before the war, and "we are misled now when the costs of Iraq are not even counted in the president's budget."

Returning to familiar themes, he accused the administration of alienating allies and stretching the U.S. military too thin.

"We need to use the tools of diplomacy as well as the tools of war," Kerry said. "All of us support our troops. But if we had built a true coalition, they would not have to fight almost alone -- and Americans would not have to bear almost all the costs in Iraq."

Joining Kerry was retired Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Clinton administration. He endorsed Kerry's candidacy.

Kerry was also joined by Madeleine Albright and William Perry, the secretaries of state and defense during the Clinton administration.

In California, Cheney defended the invasion of Iraq as an essential part of the war on terrorism that began with the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Cheney reached back to 1984 to describe the stakes in November, saying the choice between Bush and Kerry was as stark as that between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale.

Cheney won applause when he criticized Kerry's comment that other world leaders were rooting for him in November. "American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders," he said.

The dueling speeches came a day after the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns battled in West Virginia, again over the issue of national security.

The Bush campaign launched a tough new ad against Kerry as he stumped through the Mountain State.

The ad hits Kerry for his vote against a bill appropriating $87 billion for military operations in Iraq, which included money for body armor, higher combat pay and health care for military families. (Full story)

"Though John Kerry voted in October of 2002 for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers," the ad says.

Kerry called the ad "misleading" and a "distortion," insisting before an audience of veterans in Huntington that he opposed the measure because Republicans refused to pay for it by rolling back tax cuts for high-income taxpayers, as he and other Democrats proposed.

Kerry on Dean

Kerry disavowed remarks by his onetime rival, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, that Republicans said cast blame on the United States for last week's bombings of commuter trains in Spain.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Dean said Bush's decision to invade Iraq "has apparently been a factor in the death of 200 Spaniards over the weekend."

Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot angrily asserted in a written statement that Dean "blamed the deaths in Spain on President Bush and the war on terror."

"If Senator Kerry understands the nature of this threat and the need to take on terror, then he should immediately repudiate these troubling comments, and stop all efforts on behalf of his surrogates to blame America for these attacks," Racicot said.

Kerry told reporters Wednesday that Dean's comments were "not our position."

CNN's John King, Phil Hirschkorn, John Mercurio and Mark Rodeffer contributed to this report.

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