Traveling by bus through the southwest corner of this battleground state, Mr. Bush tried to improve voters' perceptions of his domestic policies by condemning Democrats for going negative — even as he held Kerry's plans up to the harshest possible light.
"I'm running against a fellow who has got a massive, complicated blueprint to have our government take over the decision making in health care," the president said. "Not only is his plan going to increase the power of bureaucrats in your life, but he can't pay for it unless he raises your taxes."
"What would you expect from a senator from Massachusetts?" Mr. Bush said, as a partisan crowd cheered the reference to Kerry's home state and its liberal leanings.
Kerry's campaign said that Mr. Bush mischaracterized its health care policy and that the president's plans would indeed put Social Security in peril.
Kerry, meanwhile, assailed President Bush on Monday for letting the decade-longexpire. Kerry also unveiled his own $5 billion plan to fight crime and picked up an endorsement from the National Association of Police Organizations, a coalition of more than 2,000 police unions and associations.
"George Bush made a choice today," the Democratic nominee told a Washington audience. "He chose his powerful friends in the gun lobby over the police officers and the families he promised to protect."
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said that was "another false attack from Senator Kerry." The president believes the best way to curb gun violence is to enforce laws that are on the books, McClellan said, and he added that violent crime was at a 30-year low.
Republican leaders in Congress said last week they have no plans to renew the 1994 ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons, even as some law enforcement officials encouraged them to keep the prohibition alive. Mr. Bush has said he would sign a renewal, but Democrats say he has made no effort to press Congress to approve one.
Mr. Bush made three stops during a six-hour bus tour in Michigan, a state he narrowly lost in 2000, before heading to Colorado on Monday night. Polls show Kerry clinging to a slight lead in Michigan, with job losses and health care costs worrying voters.
"You'll hear the same rhetoric you hear every campaign, believe me," Mr. Bush said, "'They're going to take away Social Security checks.' It's the most tired, pathetic way to campaign for the presidency."
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer responded: "The only thing that's tired and pathetic is George Bush's warmed-over Social Security privatization plan from 2000 that jeopardizes the program, cuts benefits and results in a $2 trillion deficit."
Kerry's backers made their presence known along Mr. Bush's bus route. "Show us jobs," read a sign at the first intersection out of Muskegon. The White House countered with higher-tech theatrics: The president's bus drove into left field of a baseball stadium in Battle Creek, Mich., stopping at the edge of the crowd so Mr. Bush could jump out and shake hands along a raised platform.
Kerry plans to expand the health insurance system for federal employees to private citizens through tax credits and subsidies. The government would help companies and insurers pay an employee's catastrophic medical costs if the firms agreed to hold down premiums.
Outside analysts peg the cost at $895 billion over 10 years, to cover 27 million more people. Kerry says he would pay for it by rolling back Bush's tax cuts for people earning more than $200,000 a year.
The number of Americans without health insurance has risen during Mr. Bush's presidency, reaching nearly 45 million in 2003. Medicare costs are rising rapidly.
On Social Security, the president wants to give younger workers the option of putting part of their payroll tax into personal retirement accounts, giving them a chance to make a higher return.
In Washington, Kerry outlined a $5 billion, 10-year anti-crime agenda, to be paid for by extension of customs fees already included in numerous pending bills.
To cut crime, he would restore the assault weapons ban and push to: