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Debate on Iraq intensifies in campaign
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq continues to take center stage this week in the campaign, with Vice President Dick Cheney charging that Democrat John Kerry would not aggressively fight the war against terror and Kerry's running mate accusing President Bush of bungling the war.

Kerry and vice presidential nominee John Edwards have launched a forceful denunciation of Bush's Iraq policy in recent days, while the Bush campaign launched a new TV ad Wednesday that accuses the Democratic nominee of shifting with the political winds.

Speaking Wednesday after a meeting with Republican House members at the Capitol, Cheney read a prepared statement that sharply questioned Kerry's fortitude in fighting the war on terror. (Iraqi interim prime minister in Washington)

He said the Massachusetts senator "lacks the resolve, the determination and the conviction to prevail in this conflict."

"Given the nature of the enemy we face today, and the fact that their ultimate objective is to force us to change our policies and to retreat within our borders, the last thing we need is to convey the impression that terrorists can change our policies through violence and intimidation," Cheney said.

"The choice the American people will make on November 2 is whether we will continue with the tough, aggressive and effective policies of this administration or revert back to the pre-9/11 mind-set by electing someone whose views on these issues are marked by indecision, confusion and contradiction."

On CNN's "Larry King Live," Edwards, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, shot back that Cheney, "as in so many things, is dead wrong."

While commending U.S. troops for performing in an "extraordinary" manner in Iraq, Edwards said, "George Bush created this mess and can't fix it.

"George Bush promised us that he had a plan -- not true. Promised us this war would pay for itself -- not true. Promised us we had the troops to secure the country -- not true. ... The truth is the only two people who think no mistakes have been made there are George Bush and Dick Cheney. If we're going to fix this mess, we need a new president."

Underscoring the Bush attacks was a new television ad showing Kerry windsurfing to the strains of the "Blue Danube" waltz. A narrator reads a list of what the Bush campaign contends are the senator's vacillating positions on the Iraq war, education and Medicare.

The ad ends with the tag line: "John Kerry. Whichever way the wind blows."

The Kerry campaign reacted angrily to the ad, charging that its "lighthearted" approach was inappropriate in the middle of a war.

"This is a shameful advertisement that shows a disturbing disregard for those fighting and sacrificing in Iraq," said Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry, who demanded that the president repudiate it.

Edwards offered a similar critique during an appearance in Miami, Florida.

"Today George Bush is laughing again. Over 1,000 Americans have lost their lives. Americans are being beheaded. Iraq is a mess, and they think this is a joke," Edwards said. "It is clear they have no idea how to protect our troops, but they will do anything to protect their jobs."

Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel defended the ad, saying that "what's disturbing is John Kerry's various shifting positions on the war on Iraq."

"What the ad spells out is that it's important to have a leader whose word we can believe not only on the day they say it but the next day as well," Stanzel said. "There is no weather vane on top of the White House. This country needs leaders who stand for something when the times are good and when the times are bad."

The Kerry campaign released a new spot, denouncing the windsurfing commercial as "a juvenile and tasteless attack ad."

During his visit Wednesday to West Palm Beach, Kerry also went on the attack against Bush's plan to allow younger workers to invest some of their Social Security payments in personal accounts, a proposal its critics call "privatization."

Kerry said that Bush's plan is a "rip-off" that would drain $2 trillion from Social Security over the next decade while providing a $940 billion windfall to financial services firms that would manage the individual accounts.

"The truth is the only people who benefit from George Bush's Social Security scheme are the special interests," Kerry said.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Sasha Johnson and Laura Bernardini contributed to this report.

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