As the race for the White House entered its final week, President Bush presented himself as the best candidate to keep America safe, while Sen. John Kerry accused Mr. Bush of "unbelievable blindness" over theof powerful explosives in Iraq.
"Terrorists could use this material to kill our troops, our people, blow up airplanes and level buildings," Kerry told a Monday morning rally in Dover, N.H.
"The unbelievable blindness, stubbornness, arrogance of this administration to do the basics have now allowed this president to once again fail the test of being the commander in chief," Kerry said. The Democratic presidential nominee began his day in New Hampshire before heading to Philadelphia for a rally with former President Clinton at midday – Mr. Clinton's first public appearance since he had heart surgery six and a half weeks ago.
"This is one of the great blunders of Iraq, one of the great blunders of this administration," Kerry said.
Running mate John Edwards, campaigning in Ohio, added, "After today, it's hard to imagine that even they'll continue believing things are going well."
The disclosure that 380 tons of explosives had disappeared from a former Iraqi military installation was cited by Kerry as fresh evidence that the Bush administration went to war with Iraq ill-prepared to deal with the chaos and insurgency that followed.
Mr. Bush again defended his decision to go to war with Iraq in an ABC interview broadcast Monday.
"I calculated as best I could the cost of going to war. ... It is a very, very heavy decision for the commander in chief. You can't put a price tag on a person's life," Mr. Bush said. "If the commander in chief withdraws before the mission is completed, it's too great a price."
Mr. Bush said it was "essential that we succeed in Iraq ... because if we do not succeed in Iraq … the terrorists will rejoice."
Asked about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States before the election, a threat the administration has repeatedly raised, Mr. Bush said, "We don't have actionable intelligence to say there's an attack, and of course if we did, we'd be moving heaven and earth to stop it," the president said.
Asked if he has considered the fact that he could lose, Mr. Bush replied, "I'm not there yet."
The president, accompanied by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giulian, was to deliver a speech Monday in Greeley, Colo., to call attention to his handling of the war on terror. Mr. Bush was then headed to Iowa afterward for events in Council Bluffs and Davenport.
Kerry was hoping to get a boost from his appearance with former President Clinton.
"I hope he brings strength of health and the excitement that Bill Clinton always brings to the campaign trail," Kerry said.
Mr. Clinton, in an interview broadcast Monday on ABC,' said he talked to his doctors before deciding to campaign.
"I feel good. My chest is normally feeling a little bit tender in the morning but I get up and start moving around and I feel better,'' he said.
Asked if he thought Kerry could win, Mr. Clinton replied, "I think so, but it's very close. Our country is divided culturally, pretty evenly now, and each party has a base vote of about 45 percent so the election will turn on what percentage of that 45 percent shows up, who's done a better job of registering ... and how the other 10 percent sees it.''
Polls showed the race growing tighter with just eight days left until the election. An ABC News poll had the candidates essentially tied with 49 percent for Mr. Bush and 48 percent for Mr. Kerry, within a 2.5-point margin of error. The president had a 5-point lead in that poll last week.
A Reuters/Zogby survey gave Mr. Bush a 48-46 percent lead, also within the margin of error; the same poll was 47-45 percent last week, indicating fewer respondents are undecided. The Washington Post, which gave the president a lead of six points on Thursday, has Mr. Bush up 49-48 percent, within the margin.
The Reuters/Zogby poll had Mr. Bush up in the battleground states of Ohio and New Mexico, and Kerry ahead in Michigan. Statistical ties were seen in Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
With only a few states left on both sides' target lists, a now-familiar coincidence of scheduling has the two candidates spending the night in the same state: Mr. Bush in La Crosse, Wis., and Kerry about 200 miles away in Green Bay. Mr. Bush was also coming close to crossing paths with Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, who was stumping in Racine, Wis., and Dubuque, Iowa, on Monday.