Bush and Kerry Hit Road, Trade Blows on Jobs
(Reuters) - President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry traded blows over jobs and security on Friday as they opened a two-month sprint to the Nov. 2 election, with Bush touting his economic record and Kerry declaring the president "unfit" to lead America.
Hours after accepting the Republican nomination for a second term at the White House, Bush hailed a government report showing 144,000 U.S. jobs were created in August and said "our economy is strong and getting stronger."
"Because we acted, our economy is growing again," Bush told a crowd of about 10,000 in Moosic, a suburb of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania. "Because we acted, we have overcome recession, scandal, stock market decline and a terrorist attack."
Kerry said the economy still had shed nearly 1 million jobs under Bush and he was "now certain to be the first president since the Great Depression to face re-election without creating a single job."
"I don't think its something to celebrate, I think it's something to work on," the Massachusetts senator said of the jobs figures during a drizzly "front porch" visit with voters in Newark, Ohio. "It's something to change."
Both candidates hit the road to key swing states on Friday as they headed into the long Labor Day holiday weekend, traditionally the kick off for political races.
After taking a few days off the campaign trail during the Republican convention, Kerry held a midnight rally in Springfield, Ohio, less than an hour after Bush concluded his acceptance speech.
Bristling at the "anger and distortion" from speakers at the convention and at Vice President Dick Cheney's contention he was unfit for the White House, Kerry lashed out at Bush over his economic policies and the war in Iraq.
"Misleading our nation into war makes you unfit to lead this nation," Kerry said. "Letting 45 million Americans go without health care makes you unfit to lead this nation. I believe it's time to set a new course for America."
Polls show the race between Bush and Kerry is essentially a dead heat coming out of the conventions, but Bush has been gaining ground and developing a significant advantage over Kerry on issues like national security.
Polls also show majorities of Americans still believe the nation is on the wrong track, and Kerry hit that uncertainty hard as he returned to the campaign trail in Ohio.
"The election comes down to this," Kerry said. "If you believe this country is heading in the right direction, you should support George Bush. But if you believe America needs to move in a new direction, join with us."
In Newark, he cracked that Bush's convention speech was "all hat and no cattle," and said "the president and the Republican Party will say anything and do anything to get re-elected."
In his acceptance speech, Bush evoked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and defended the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as well as his leadership in the war on terror, promising to create a safer world.
"We are staying on the offensive -- striking terrorists abroad -- so we do not have to face them here at home," Bush said. "And we will prevail."
Bush, who left New York immediately after his speech to head to the swing state of Pennsylvania, was eased on to the campaign trail by new Labor Department figures that showed employers added 144,000 workers to payrolls in August.
The report revised upward the hiring totals for the previous two months, and showed the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.4 percent in July -- the lowest since October 2001.
"Our growing economy is spreading prosperity and opportunity -- and nothing will hold us back," Bush said in Moosic. He also planned stops on Friday in the key swing states of Wisconsin and Iowa, where he lost in 2000.
The outlook for the economy and jobs are likely to be crucial down the stretch. Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart told reporters that after the recent battles on national security, Iraq and each candidate's credentials to be commander in chief, "this campaign will turn now in a different direction and go to the economy."
Kerry began a $50 million fall television advertising buy in some of the 20 battleground states that will decide the election, and targeted on Friday the states and markets where Bush was campaigning. (Additional reporting by Patricia Wilson and Steve Holland)
Sep 3 2004 1:06PM
Think they could have come up w/ a better title?