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Kerry blasts swift boat attack ads

From Wolf Blitzer

George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry took the fight directly to President Bush Thursday over what he says is Bush's willingness to allow surrogates to tell lies about his Vietnam record.

"More than 30 years ago, I learned an important lesson -- when you're under attack, the best thing to do is turn your boat into the attacker. That's what I intend to do today," Kerry said from the campaign trail Thursday.

The senator went on to say, "Over the last week or so, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been attacking me. Of course, this group isn't interested in the truth -- and they're not telling the truth. They didn't even exist until I won the nomination for president."

At issue -- an ad the group has been airing around the country that claims Kerry is lying about his war record.

"Here's what you really need to know about them," Kerry said of the Swift Boat Veterans. "They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the president won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything you need to know -- he wants them to do his dirty work."

Addressing firefighters in Boston, Kerry went on the offensive.

"Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to the country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: Bring it on."

The Bush-Cheney campaign quickly responded with this statement:

"Senator Kerry knows his statements are false. Senator Kerry knows President Bush has called his service in Vietnam noble. Senator Kerry knows that the Bush campaign has criticized him for voting against money for our combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush campaign has tried to have a debate about the future not the past."

At the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas, White House press secretary Scott McClellan added this:

"The president has condemned all of the ads by the shadowy group. We have called on Senator Kerry to join us in calling for an end to all the unregulated soft money activity that is going on in this campaign."

The Kerry campaign tries to further its point in this ad:

"Announcer: Listen to someone who was there, the man whose life John Kerry saved.

Lt. Jim Rassmann: It blew me off the boat. All these Viet Cong were shooting at me. I expected I'd be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine."

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh joined in the fray on his Thursday show.

"The swift boat vets are really damaging Kerry -- so much so that he's attacking them today and sounding like Lanny Davis in the process with his conspiracy claim that Bush is behind this. Here's old war hero Kerry, old battle-tested Kerry, and he's out there whining and moaning about Bush doing dirty tricks."

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