Kerry Slams Bush on Terror

Times Staff Writer

Framing the White House contest as a choice between hope and fear, Sen. John F. Kerry accused President Bush on Saturday of trying to scare voters into doubting his capacity to protect the country from terrorism.

Kerry’s remarks came on a day of campaign stops in Colorado and New Mexico that underscored the Southwest’s potentially pivotal role in the presidential race. In both states, Kerry campaigned with prominent Latinos and delivered a few lines in Spanish.

But his main focus Saturday was to blunt the Bush campaign’s push to portray him as a man who would be unable to keep the nation safe, including a new television ad that shows wolves in a forest and warns that “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.”


“Vote your hopes, not the fears that George Bush wants you to feel,” the Democratic presidential nominee shouted to several thousand supporters at a rally in Pueblo, Colo.

Speaking outside a restored 19th century train station with the snow-capped Rockies in the distance, Kerry slammed Bush for “going around the country trying to scare people.”

“The only thing he wants to talk about is terror,” Kerry added. “Well, let me tell you something, if that’s the debate we want to have, I’m prepared to have that debate, because I can wage a better war on terror than George Bush has.”

Several times, Kerry invoked his service in the Vietnam War, a topic he has resumed stressing in recent days despite concerns among Democrats that he overplayed it earlier in the campaign.

At the Pueblo rally, he paid tribute to a fellow Navy veteran, Wayne Langhofer of Kansas, who was leaning on a metal barricade near the stage. Langhofer survived a Vietnam river boat skirmish that killed a close friend of Kerry’s, the senator said.

“We were together the day that I won my Silver Star,” Kerry recalled.

He went on to weave their combat experience into the campaign dispute on how best to wage the war on terrorism.


“With the same energy that Wayne and I put into going after Viet Cong and trying to win for our country, I pledge to you: I will hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists before they harm us,” Kerry said.

Kerry surrogates also raised Vietnam. At an afternoon rally here in Las Cruces, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson introduced Kerry as “a Vietnam War hero.” At the Colorado event, Ken Salazar, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, cited Kerry’s three Purple Hearts and his Bronze and Silver stars as proof of his leadership skills.

Kerry’s visit to Colorado 10 days before the election reflected his hope of becoming the first Democrat to win the Republican-leaning state -- along with its nine electoral votes -- since Bill Clinton in 1992.

A key factor that has kept Colorado in play is the potentially strong Latino turnout that Salazar, the attorney general, could draw to the polls for the Senate race.

The other battleground states where Kerry is counting on strong Latino support to help him win are New Mexico, Nevada, Florida.

In Colorado, the Latinos campaigning with Kerry on Saturday included Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America, and two California members of Congress -- Hilda L. Solis of El Monte and Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles.


When Kerry spoke in Spanish, the crowd chanted, “Adios Bush! Adios Bush!”

The Massachusetts senator also drew peals of laughter when he hunched over a podium and ridiculed Bush’s performance in the presidential debates, especially his repeated comments in their Sept. 30 encounter that quelling the conflict in Iraq was “hard work.”

“He’d lean over that podium ... and he’d say, “It’s hard work, it’s hard work, it’s hard work,’ ” Kerry said. “Well, I’ve got news for you, Mr. President: I’m ready. I’m ready to relieve you of the hard work.”

In Florida on Saturday, Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, attacked Bush’s plan to let young Americans invest future Social Security benefits in private investment accounts. Campaigning in Orlando, he cited a report suggesting Bush might try to raise the age of eligibility for benefits to 72.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt called the report “complete and total nonsense.”

“Scare tactics based on false reports of plans are just the latest example of the Kerry campaign willing to say or do anything, including preying on the fears of senior citizens,” Schmidt said.