Democratic challenger John F. Kerry on Tuesday pounded President Bush for the surge in gasoline prices as he sought to press his case that Americans continue to suffer economic hardship despite months of robust job growth.
Campaigning for the second time this month in the Pacific Northwest, where gas prices are among the highest in the nation, Kerry also cited higher college tuition and healthcare costs as signs of persistent economic gloom under the Bush administration.
“My gosh, everything’s going up except the earnings of average Americans, which are going down in the United States, and that’s wrong,” the Massachusetts senator told supporters here at a school-bus depot.
With four yellow buses arranged as Kerry’s backdrop in a sun-baked parking lot, school administrators told the presumptive Democratic nominee that gasoline costs threatened to divert money sorely needed for teachers and classrooms.
Alluding to the war in Iraq, Kerry blamed higher gas prices partly on “the global instability created by President Bush’s foreign policy” and repeated his charge that Bush broke his pledge to pressure Saudi Arabia into boosting oil supplies to lower prices.
“America is paying an enormous penalty as a result of that, and all of our economy gets hurt as a result of that,” Kerry said, echoing remarks he made last week in Oregon, a hotly contested state.
In response to a question about the prospect of a military draft to resolve soldier shortages in Iraq, Kerry said his administration would not need a draft. He accused the president of “running a kind of clandestine draft, because he’s turned the National Guard and the Reserves into almost active duty.”
Deploring what he called Bush’s “arrogance and ineptness” on foreign policy, he also vowed to “restore our reputation and respect in the world.” He cited his lengthy tenure on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and his frequent meetings with heads of state.
The president’s reelection campaign released a new television ad depicting the senator as an unprincipled waffler who was weak on national security.
The spot says Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, then “changed his position” under pressure from “fellow liberals.”
“While wiretaps, subpoena powers and surveillances are routinely used against drug dealers and organized crime,” the ad says, “John Kerry would now repeal the Patriot Act’s use of these tools against terrorists.”
The spot will run in 19 battleground states, according to the Bush campaign.
Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton called the ad “completely false.” Kerry has argued that the law is being misused in ways that threaten civil liberties and is working with five Republican senators on revisions, Clanton said.
At a fundraiser here Tuesday night, Kerry told about 200 supporters, “George Bush has spent $80 million dollars in the last eight weeks to distort, mislead and -- perhaps you can find another adjective to describe what he’s done to my record.”
“Lie!” a man shouted to a chorus of cheers.
“I didn’t say that,” Kerry said. But he added, Bush “doesn’t have a record to run on. He has a record to run away from.”