Within hours, the Democrat's campaign pushed out a commercial condemning Mr. Bush for
The Bush ad, set to Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz," asks: "In which direction would John Kerry lead?"
"Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it. He voted for education reform and now opposes it. He claims he's against increasing Medicare premiums but voted five times to do so," the ad says.
Kerry's campaign dismissed the ad as misleading and an attempt to distract voters from Iraq, with senior adviser Mike McCurry calling on Mr. Bush to repudiate the spot. Then, the campaign unveiled a response ad.
"One thousand U.S. casualties. Two Americans beheaded just this week. The Pentagon admits terrorists are pouring into Iraq," the ad says. "In the face of the Iraq quagmire, George Bush's answer is to run a juvenile and tasteless attack ad."
The back and forth on Iraq continued on the campaign trail as Mr. Bush mocked Kerry's credentials to be commander in chief, saying the way to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq "is not to wilt or waver or send mixed signals to the enemy."
Kerry, meanwhile, suggested that Mr. Bush, far from bringing American forces home, might instead bring back the military draft.
Answering a question about the draft at a forum with voters in West Palm Beach, Fla., Kerry said, "If George Bush were to be re-elected, given the way he has gone about this war and given his avoidance of responsibility in North Korea and Iran and other places, is it possible? I can't tell you."
A number of U.S. troops have had their assignments extended because of the war, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that reviving the draft would be neither necessary nor desirable. The Bush campaign called Kerry's comment irresponsible.
Mr. Bush, trying to show a leadership contrast with his Democratic opponent, said on a campaign trip to battleground Pennsylvania: "I'm driven by my desire to protect the American people. I'll be steadfast in my resolve to do everything I can to make you secure."
Criticizing Kerry, the president said that "the way to prevail, the way toward successful conclusion that we all want, the way to secure Iraq and bring our troops home as quickly as possible is not to wilt or waver or send mixed signals to the enemy."
"My opponent is sending mixed signals," the president said. "He has had many different positions on Iraq."
Mr. Bush has linked Iraq to the more politically popular war against terror, and he suggested that Kerry was too wobbly to keep Americans safe.
"You cannot lead the war against terror if you wilt or waver when things get tough," the president said.
Back in Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney went before TV cameras on Capitol Hill to say Kerry's statements on Iraq and the war on terror showed "someone who lacks the resolve, the determination and the conviction to prevail in this conflict."
Kerry, his voice scratchy from a cold, said in Florida that Mr. Bush was divorced from realities in Iraq and ignoring the manhunt for terrorists in Afghanistan. "Osama bin Forgotten," Kerry said, referring to the al Qaeda leader, still missing three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Besides Iraq, Kerry focused on Social Security while campaigning in Florida. He said the president's proposal to give workers partly private Social Security accounts amounted tothat would end up hurting senior citizens.
"He's driving seniors right out of the middle class," Kerry said in a battleground state rich with voters keenly watching the candidates talk about two pillars of retirement, Social Security and Medicare.
"I will never privatize Social Security, ever," Kerry said, repeating promises not to raise the retirement age or cut benefits.
Kerry's two-day swing through Florida, which began Tuesday, followed deadly hurricanes that nearly halted polling and politicking in the state. Mr. Bush made his third campaign-season trip to the state this week to assess damage caused by Hurricane Ivan.