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Inside Politics

Candidates head into final debate

Bush keeps up the heat; Kerry preps in New Mexico

Polls show Bush and Kerry are statistically even as they head into Wednesday night's debate.
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President Bush paints Sen. John Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Contrasting the candidates' messages on terrorism.

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CNN's Allan Chernoff on stocks, politics and a possible backlash.
Third and final presidential debate: Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. 9 p.m. ET

CNN's special coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
America Votes 2004

TEMPE, Arizona (CNN) -- On the eve of the final faceoff between the two major party candidates, President Bush stumped in Colorado and Arizona Tuesday, while Sen. John Kerry holed up with aides in a New Mexico hotel, preparing for Wednesday night's debate.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow night," Bush told a campaign luncheon in Paradise Valley, Arizona, a few miles from the debate site in Tempe. "It's a chance to point out major differences."

Kerry decided to remain in Santa Fe Tuesday night, rather than traveling to Arizona as originally planned, so that he would not miss the baseball playoff game between his hometown Boston Red Sox and their archrivals, the New York Yankees, aides said.

"Senator Kerry is very relaxed," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been behind closed doors with the Democratic nominee this week. "He's very much at peace. He's confident. He feels the debates have gone well. He's looking forward to the Boston Red Sox winning."

The Yankees held off the Red Sox 10-7 in the opening game of the American League Championship Series.

With national polls showing the race neck-and-neck, Kerry and Bush will spar for 90 minutes Wednesday night in their third and final debate at Arizona State University, focusing on domestic issues. The encounter, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, begins at 6 p.m. local time (9 p.m. ET). (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the debates)

While Kerry kept a low profile Tuesday, Bush kept up an aggressive posture against the Massachusetts senator, repeating a line that the president sprang on his rival in their second debate: "He can run, but he cannot hide" from his record.

"Much as he's tried to obscure it, on issue after issue, my opponent has shown why he earned his ranking as the most liberal member of the United States Senate," Bush told a rally in Colorado Springs, referring to an analysis of voting records by the non-partisan National Journal, which the Kerry campaign has disputed.

Both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney also kept up their criticism of comments Kerry made in an interview with the New York Times Magazine, where, in answer to a question about what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, the senator replied that "we have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance."

"As a former law enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life," Kerry told the magazine.

Alluding to those comments, Bush told his luncheon audience in Arizona that he and Kerry "have a different view of the war on terror."

"It's not just to be reduced as a nuisance. It is to be defeated by using all of the might of the United States and spreading freedom as an alternative."

During a rally in Davenport, Iowa, Cheney also ridiculed the comment, saying that when he heard it "I asked myself, when was terrorism only a nuisance?"

"Was it in 1983, when terrorists hit our embassy that spring in Beirut and killed several Americans, including the CIA station chief?" Cheney said, going on to ask the same question about a series of terrorist attacks, from the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 to the 2000 attack on the USS Cole.

"Which one of those was a nuisance? How do you look back on that track record and say there was ever a time in the last 20 years when we didn't have to be concerned about terror?" Cheney said.

The Kerry campaign has accused the Bush camp of twisting the remarks about terrorism out of context, calling the attack on Kerry "dishonest" and "pathetic" and noting the senator's repeated comments that he considers terrorism to be the most important threat facing the United States.

Even as the to-and-fro continued on that magazine comment, Bush supporters Tuesday were seizing on another remark made Monday by Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, about the late actor Christopher Reeve, in which he suggested that Kerry's plan to promote stem cell research would lead to cures for spinal cord injuries.

Calling Reeve, who died Sunday after nine years as a quadriplegic, "a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him," Edwards went on to say, "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, arranged by the Bush-Cheney campaign, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, called the comment "crass" and said they amounted to "giving false hope" that new treatments were imminent.

"I find it opportunistic to use the death of someone like Christopher Reeve -- I think it is shameful -- in order to mislead the American people," the Tennessee Republican said. "We should be offering people hope, but neither physicians, scientists, public servants or trial lawyers like John Edwards should be offering hype." (Full story)

In response to Frist, Edwards spokesman Mark Kornblau said, "What's crass is George Bush standing in the way of promising stem cell research that holds the hope of cures for millions of suffering Americans."

CNN's Ed Henry and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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