"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told supporters at a town-hall meeting Tuesday.
Democrats reacted quickly.
"Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line today, showing once again that he and George Bush will do anything and say anything to save their jobs," said a statement issued by vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
"Protecting America from vicious terrorists is not a Democratic or Republican issue and Dick Cheney and George Bush should know that. John Kerry and I will keep America safe, and we will not divide the American people to do it," the statement continued.
If Kerry were elected president, Cheney said the nation would risk falling back into a "pre-9/11 mind-set" that terrorist attacks are criminal acts that require a reactive approach. Instead, he said Mr. Bush's offensive approach works to root out terrorists where they plan and train, and pressure countries that harbor terrorists.
Cheney pointed to Afghanistan as a success story in pursuing terrorists although the Sept. 11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden, remains at large., the vice president said, the United States has taken out a leader who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and harbored other terrorists.
"Saddam Hussein today is in jail, which is exactly where he belongs," Cheney said. Cheney has in the past linked Iraq to Sept. 11, but the commission that studied the 2001 terrorist attacks found no ties between Baghdad and the hijackings, and no evidence of an operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
Prior to the March 2003 invasion, the Bush administration claimed that Iraq possessed biological and chemical weapons and was actively pursuing nuclear arms.
In more than a year of searching, U.S. teams have uncovered evidence that Iraq violated U.N. sanctions and worked to develop illegal long-range missiles. Isolated chemical munitions dating from before the 1991 Persian Gulf War have turned up.
However, no evidence has emerged of significant chemical or biological stockpiles or active biological, chemical or nuclear weapons programs.
The U.S. military on Tuesday reported the 1000th military death in Iraq.
Mr. Bush on Tuesday accused Kerry of changing positions on the Iraq war by adopting the language of one-time presidential candidate Howard Dean when Kerry called the conflict "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Kerry "woke up yesterday morning with yet another new position, and this one's not even his own; it is that of his one-time rival, Howard Dean," Mr. Bush told thousands of supporters Tuesday at a rally in Lee's Summit, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City.
Mr. Bush said Kerry "even used the same words Howard Dean did back when he supposedly disagreed with him. … Senator Kerry flip-flops. We were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power."
During last week's Republican convention, Bush supporters repeatedly assailed Kerry as too indecisive or weak to lead the war on terrorism and wove references to the Sept. 11 attacks into their defense of Mr. Bush's policies.
"John Kerry's claim that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein prefer him, raises the risk that he would accommodate his position to their viewpoint," former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.
Keynote speaker Zell Miller claimed, "For more than twenty years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure. As a war protestor, Kerry blamed our military."
"Senator Kerry says, 'America should go to war not when it wants to go to war but when it has to go to war.'" New York Gov. George Pataki said. "Well, Senator: the fire fighters and cops who ran into those burning towers and died on September 11th didn't want to go to war, they were heroes in a war they didn't even know existed.
And Mr. Bush himself claimed in his acceptance speech: "If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."