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Kerry faults Bush on homeland security

'I can wage a more effective war on terror than George Bush'

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SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) -- On a day when the government warned in grim terms of a possible terrorist attack, Sen. John Kerry criticized the Bush administration for not doing enough to protect the nation.

"We deserve a president of the United States that doesn't make homeland security a photo opportunity and the rhetoric of a campaign," Kerry, the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee, said Wednesday. "We deserve a president that makes America safer."

Kerry noted that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush administration officials have often said the possibility of another attack is "a question of when," not "if."

But, he charged, the administration has done little to safeguard U.S. ports or protect large facilities, such as chemical and nuclear plants.

Kerry's comments came shortly before Attorney General John Ashcroft held a news conference in Washington announcing that "disturbing intelligence" indicated "al Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard."(Full story)

The Bush-Cheney campaign released a written statement, touting what it described as Bush's "historic" efforts to boost homeland funding.

"John Kerry has played politics with homeland security throughout this campaign, and his attacks today are no exception," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the GOP campaign.

Kerry's comments on homeland security came at the start of a speech that focused largely on energy, a subject he has hit on in recent days. The veteran U.S. senator from Massachusetts noted rising gasoline prices across the country.

"Up and down the food chain of America, people are paying more, and this president has not lifted a finger to try and lower the price or make America energy independent," Kerry said. "I will. It is long overdue."

He said Bush has failed to wean the United States from its dependence on oil from abroad, and he said the country could not meet its needs by domestic drilling alone.

On Thursday, Kerry is expected to talk about national security in more detail with a speech devoted to that subject.

Before his Wednesday speech, reporters asked Kerry why he was bringing up the issue of national security more than five months ahead of the fall elections.

"I don't think it's early," Kerry said shortly after arriving in Seattle.

"It's one of the most important issues facing the nation.

"Our young men and women are dying, in another country -- in several other countries -- and the threat of terror is very real.

"And I think I can wage a more effective war on terror than George Bush is" waging.

Several U.S. officials said Tuesday that intelligence indicates there is increasing concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, possibly as early as this summer. (Sources: Major terror attack possible this summer)

The alleged attacks might take place before the November presidential election in an attempt to affect the outcome, similar to how the Madrid train bombings influenced Spanish elections, the officials said.

There have long been security concerns ahead of the Democratic and Republican political conventions in Boston and New York at the end of the summer in light of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the Madrid train bombings in March. (Security at record high for WWII Memorial ceremony)

Asked if gatherings like political conventions would be able to go forward and if institutions of democracy could work in an era of terrorism threats, Kerry was resolute.

"You better believe it," he said.

"As long as I'm involved in it, terrorists will never shut down the democracy or the ability to function in this country.

"Never. That's what they want, and they'll never do it. Period."

Kerry on oil prices

In another speech on Tuesday, Kerry charged that instability in the Middle East caused by Bush's foreign policy has led to the recent "enormous increase" in world oil prices.

He went on to suggest that a change in the White House could improve the situation.

"If we were to change and create stability again and have a breath of fresh air in America's foreign policy ... we will reduce the cost to Americans, and we will increase the ability of Americans to do business abroad," Kerry said.

The Bush campaign released a statement challenging Kerry's overall energy policy, including his call to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, his support for a 50-cents-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax as a senator and his opposition to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"John Kerry's campaign attacks on gas prices ignore the reality of Kerry's long record of supporting higher gas prices and blocking the president's comprehensive energy plan," said Schmidt.

CNN's Mike Roselli contributed to this report.

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