Bush, Kerry praise troops on Fourth
Both Kerry, left, and Bush had praise for the U.S. military on the nation's Independence Day.
The Bush campaign is working to attract the minority vote
Vice President Dick Cheney stumps in Ohio for President Bush
John Kerry kicks off a tour of small towns in battleground states.
INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (CNN) -- On the nation's birthday, the presidential race continued to gather steam as both candidates were on the campaign trail.
In a talk Sunday marking Independence Day, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry praised the sacrifice and courage of U.S. troops but lambasted President Bush for the way he went to war in Iraq.
Bush, in a speech in the campaign battleground state of West Virginia, did not refer to the upcoming presidential election or Kerry. But the president hammered home two points that his re-election campaign often focuses on -- an optimistic outlook and improving economy.
In his speech to supporters at a barbecue in Independence, Iowa, Kerry said a president should be able to look parents in the eye and say: "I tried to do everything in my power to avoid the loss of your son or daughter, but there was no other way America to defend itself, no other choice."
He added: "I don't believe this president passes that test in the way he sent young people to Iraq. I believe he abused and misled the American people in this process. If I ever get to the point where I have to send young Americans off into harm's way I will tell America the truth."
"I'm running for president to restore trust and credibility to the White House where it belongs."
As a senator, Kerry voted in support of making military action an option in dealing with Iraq, but he has long insisted Bush failed to pull through on responsibilities to involve the international community and give U.N. weapons inspectors adequate time. He has also lambasted some now discredited intelligence presented to Congress before the war involving Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Kerry's visit to Independence was part of a campaign swing through three key battleground states in the region -- Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota.
On his trip through the Midwest, the senator from Massachusetts has emphasized his knowledge of rural issues and reached out to disenchanted Republicans and independents. He told the crowd in Independence that the country is "at a moment where it doesn't matter if it's a Republican or Democratic idea" on the table, as long as it can make the country stronger and better off.
"What is conservative -- what is acceptable -- about running up deficits as far as the eye can see?" he asked. "I'm a person of faith, and surrounded by people of faith, but there's nothing conservative about allowing your administration to cross that beautiful line set up by the founding fathers that separates church and state."
Kerry also also said there is "nothing conservative" about the administration's disrespecting some individuals' constitutional rights and "going backwards" on environmental issues.
He portrayed himself as the candidate in touch with the struggles of average Americans, vowing to "fight for the middle class" and against "those powerful interests that keep getting stronger and stronger," partly through rolling back the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans while cutting taxes for the middle class.
He repeated his campaign's stance that this is the "most important election of our lifetime" because "everything is at stake."
Despite the disagreements over Iraq, the Vietnam veteran said, U.S. troops fighting the war deserve nothing but the highest respect.
"It's tough right now for a lot of young Americans. They're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan. They're over there defending a noble concept called democracy... . And no matter what we feel about how we went there ... we honor those troops on July 4th. We honor their contribution to our country."
But, he said, the best way to honor them is to make "this country of ours stronger and safer right here at home, and stronger and safer and respected again in the world."
Bush: 'Freedom has the power to change the world'
Bush used an Independence Day Sunday to cast U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as extensions of the fundamental American belief "that freedom has the power to change the world."
Pointing to new leadership in the two nations after U.S.-led wars, Bush said, "They can count on America. We have promised to help deliver them from tyranny, to restore their sovereignty, and to set them on the path to democracy. And when America gives its word, America keeps its word."
Bush said the country's founders "would be proud of America today."
"They would take a look at this great country and see a place where opportunity is common, where all stand equal before the law, where all can hope for a better life," he said. "They'd see a country full of promise and hope... a nation that is the world's foremost champion of liberty. They'd see a nation which stands strong in the face of violent men."
Facing a tight re-election bid and mounting casualties in Iraq, Bush heaped praise on the military and veterans in his address outside the state Capitol in West Virginia, which is expected to be a campaign battleground in November.
"The war on terror has placed demands on our military," he said. "In Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, our people in uniform have been unrelenting in their performance of duty. ... Some returned home wounded, some have died. Each is mourned and missed and will be honored by our country forever. As in other times, Americans are serving and sacrificing to keep this country safe and to bring freedom to others."
Because of U.S. actions, Iraq "today is a free and sovereign nation," and ousted dictator Saddam Hussein "will receive the justice he denied so many for so long."
He also said in the long run U.S. security requires "more than defending the homeland and defeating the terrorists abroad." He said his administration's strategy is to push for political and economic reform in the Middle East, eliminating "the conditions that give rise to terror."
Bush repeated his belief that the nation is on the upswing.
"We've been through some tough times in this country. Everybody knows that," he said. "We've been tested. But this nation has responded as we always do, with courage, determination and optimism. Our economy is healthy and growing, and that's good news, because more people are finding work every single day."