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Candidates battle over national security

Each accuses other of failing to protect nation


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Sen. John Kerry speaks about the threat of terrorism to supporters at a campaign rally Saturday in Colorado.
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(CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry and President Bush challenged each other's ability to protect the nation from terrorism at rallies in different corners of the country Saturday.

During a tour of the Southwest, Kerry criticized the president's handling of national security, while Bush, in speeches across Florida, called the Democratic candidate indecisive over the war in Iraq.

As if to underscore the theme of national security, the day was marred by about a dozen breaches of restricted airspace around the president as he toured Florida. Fighter jets were scrambled to intercept several small planes that entered the 30-mile radius of restricted airspace that follows the president when he travels.

In one incident, fighter jets intercepted a plane flying over the stadium in Melbourne where Bush spoke, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Bush's voice was nearly drowned out as the jets flew overhead. A military aircraft fired a flare to get the attention of the pilot, who landed at an airport in nearby Winter Haven.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the pilot of the Cessna was questioned and released. Duffy said the incident didn't affect the president's schedule and that Bush was never in danger. The Federal Aviation Administration described the aviator as a weekend pilot who didn't realize there was a temporary ban in effect.

In another case, a Cessna flew over a Bush event in Lakeland, according to Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur. An Air Force jet guided the plane to Merritt Island airport with the aid of a Brevard County Police Department helicopter. The pilot was questioned by Secret Service officers and released.

A NORAD official reported there were about 12 airspace incidents around the president today, but they ended without arrests.

The incidents did not change President Bush's familiar attacks on the Democratic presidential candidate, describing him as indecisive and suffering from "election amnesia."

Bush accused Kerry of "misunderstanding of our battle against insurgents and terrorist in Iraq" saying his Democratic opponent changed his position on the war. Kerry, along with most other senators, voted for the Iraq war resolution.

"Senator Kerry seems to have forgotten all that as his position has evolved during the course of the campaign," Bush said.

Kerry has said he still stands by the vote to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq, though he has criticized how Bush handled the invasion and its aftermath.

The trip was Bush's 32nd visit to the state. It included stops in Fort Myers, Lakeland, Melbourne and Jacksonville.

Across the country in Pueblo, Colorado, Kerry promised supporters he would fight international terrorists more effectively than the Bush administration, contending that the president "outsourced" the duty of capturing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to "Afghan warlords."

"When this president had an opportunity to go capture Osama bin Laden or kill him in the mountains of Afghanistan, he did the same thing with that job what he did with your jobs: He outsourced it to Afghan warlords. And Osama bin Laden just walked out of a back door."

Kerry was referring to the widely held belief among U.S. military and intelligence officials that bin Laden was in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in December 2001, when U.S. and Afghan troops were assaulting the area. U.S. forces did largely rely on Afghan forces to go after him, but there is no definitive proof that the al Qaeda leader was really there.

Kerry also accused Bush of appealing to voters' fears instead of their hopes.

Although Colorado has been rock-solid Republican for a decade, including in 2000 when it sided with Bush by an 8 percent margin, recent polls show Kerry is in a close race.

Nationally, an average of 10 polls shows the race to be too close to call, with Bush edging out Kerry by just 3 percentage points, well within the margin of error of each poll.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards attacked the Bush administration's record on economy and health care when he spoke to supporters in Orlando and St. Petersburg, Flaorida on Saturday.

"Look at what's happening at home while George Bush has been in office. Five million Americans have lost their health care coverage, 4 million Americans have gone into poverty, over a million private sector jobs have been lost."

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday was defending the Bush administration's record and criticizing Kerry's "shifting position" on security issues and his "light" approach to the war on terror.

Addressing a crowd of supporters in Farmington, New Mexico, Cheney said the main goal of the administration is not to "reduce terrorism to some acceptable level" but to defeat it.

"Our troops, our allies, our enemies mast know where America stands. The president of the United States must be clear and consistent."

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


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